The wait is almost over folks. Yes, Vasily Podkolzin is about to suit up for the Vancouver Canucks. 48 days to be exact, as he will likely be in the lineup for their first preseason game against the Seattle Kraken on Sept 26. It’s been a long time coming as he’s toiled in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the past two years since being selected 10th overall at the 2019 Draft.
As NHL-ready as any prospect can be, the big Russian will probably earn himself a spot in the top nine right from the get-go alongside the likes of either J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, or Jason Dickinson. He will also get at least second unit power play time and the opportunity to maybe even kill penalties, as he’s been relied upon to do so for Team Russia and SKA St. Petersburg in the past.
Needless to say, Podkolzin will be a massive addition to the Canucks’ lineup with his rare combination of power, size, and skill. He also has a relentless work ethic, elite playmaking abilities, and leadership qualities that are off the charts. In fact, he was even compared to Mark Messier by Detroit Red Wings’ great and former Canuck Igor Larionov.
The best thing about Podkolzin is his versatility. Unlike the Canucks’ most recent Russian import Nikolay Goldobin, he doesn’t have to play in the top six to be effective. He also does not need an elite centerman to stand out offensively. He is an amazing two-way force that can make a difference anywhere in the lineup. That’s why he will be the most important addition to this team by the end of the 2021-22 season. After the instant success of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Nils Hoglander before him, fans are getting used to uber rookies becoming impactful regulars. Podkolzin will be no different.
The question is, where will head coach Travis Green put him to start the season? Let’s look at a few duos he could go with.
Nils Hoglander and Bo Horvat
Flanked by Hoglander and Podkolzin, Horvat would have two extremely effective forecheckers on his line that never give up. Think Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen on steroids. From what we have seen from them in the past, they are both smart two-way players with a tendency to drive play and make life miserable for opponents in both the offensive and defensive zone. With Horvat’s faceoff prowess and their relentless puck pursuit, this trio would be the ultimate puck possession machine.
Tanner Pearson and Jason Dickinson
Likely the third line to start the season, Podkolzin would be playing more of a matchup role with Dickinson and Tanner Pearson. Both Dickinson and Pearson are used to playing against the top players, but Podkolzin will be a bit of an unknown since he’s used to driving the play. Although, that may be a good thing since he would attempt to push the pace rather than stay back in a defensive posture.
Podkolzin has all the makings of a great third-line winger, even though he has the skills to be in the top six. He’s a tenacious forechecker, strong along the boards, and rarely gives up the puck when he has it on his stick. If all goes to plan, this line could be as good as the recently separated three-headed monster of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow that terrorized teams in the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller
From a checking line to the top line. When Podkolzin hits his prime, he will be a mainstay in the top six even if he doesn’t play there consistently this season. Though, I’m sure Green will try every combination in training camp and the preseason to see what he has in the young Russian. Playing him with two of the Canucks’ top players might be a match made in heaven. In the words of Pettersson, speed, agility, power, I am a big fan of these things. Well, he will love Podkolzin on his line then.
With Pettersson’s shot, creativity, and playmaking skills along with the size and power of Podkolzin and Miller, this line could be as good or even better than the West Coast Express. At 6-foot-4, 203 pounds, Podkolzin doesn’t pack the same punch Todd Bertuzzi did in his prime at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, but he still has similar attributes that could make him a handful for the opposition. Pettersson and Markus Naslund are pretty much the same in skill level and, no disrespect to Brendan Morrison, but Miller has a lot more in his repertoire as a top-line center than he did.
Adding Podkolzin to the top line would also allow Boeser to slide down to the second line with Hoglander and Horvat and force Garland to join Pearson and Dickinson on the third line. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a very formidable top nine to me.
Podkolzin Could Be the Ultimate X-Factor in 2021-22
With all the additions the Canucks made in the offseason, the signing of Podkolzin kind of got lost in the shuffle. I’m sure it didn’t with most Canucks fans, but it definitely did in the media. At $925,000 for the next three seasons, he might be the NHL’s cheapest top-nine addition. He could also make the biggest impact on the lineup, not only during the regular season but also in the playoffs.
Podkolzin’s best will likely come in the postseason as he’s already shown the ability to step up when his team needs him the most. Starting at the 2021 World Junior Championship, his leadership as captain of Team Russia shone through as he did all he could to will his team to victory. He and his team unfortunately were denied a medal, but he did manage to put up two goals and four points in seven games and be named one of the top three players of the tournament. He also was accountable for his whole team’s performance as he apologized on Instagram shortly after losing 4-1 to Team Finland in the bronze medal game. That’s the definition of a great captain right there.
Podkolzin’s tour de force didn’t come until the KHL Playoffs when he led SKA St. Petersburg in scoring with six goals and 11 points in 16 games. As it was all season long, he did it with very little ice time on a team hesitant to put him in the spotlight. Yet he excelled as their best player most nights and ended up matching his entire season total in just 16 games. Just imagine what he could do with more.
The Podkolzin Show Is Coming
Get ready Canucks fans, the next great Russian is on the horizon and he could be the x-factor everyone has been waiting for since Pavel Bure and Alex Mogilny graced Vancouver with their presence back in the 90s. He might not end up with the same numbers, but he will be remembered as one of the greats. His well-rounded game and impressive intangibles will see to that.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.