How Canucks prospect Vasily Podkolzin is turning it up in the KHL

Watch as Vasily Podkolzin skates through the OHL defence and sets up Rodion Amirov for a goal to help Russia pull even with the OHL.

If you checked in on Vasily Podkolzin’s point totals mid-way through the season, you were probably disappointed. So much so, in fact, you may have wondered if something was wrong with his game, or if it was time to worry just months after he was taken 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Podkolzin went without a single point through his first 17 KHL games this season, but there was more to that total than met the eye. The fact was that Podkolzin more often than not played less than 10 minutes a game, recording more than that amount just five times in that span — the most being when he logged 11:55 in a late November game.

And beyond that, Podkolzin didn’t spend this entire season with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. He also played 16 games in the second-tier VHL and two in the junior MHL, scoring eight and four points, respectively. He was a step above those leagues, but not getting much opportunity in the highest pro league in Russia. Part of the reason was because, well, he’s 18 years old, and another is that the SKA team he plays on is a stacked unit that finished with the second-best regular season record.

Podkolzin also left his team in December to play for Russia at the world juniors, earning a silver medal and finishing that event with five points in seven games. But when he returned to SKA, something important changed — Podkolzin was suddenly given much greater opportunity.

After the WJC, Podkolzin played more than 10 minutes in 13 of 16 regular season games. He recorded his first point of the season in his third game back and started on a four-game point streak. For the rest of the way, the 18-year-old averaged just over 12 minutes per game, which still isn’t a huge number, but Podkolzin was clearly being trusted more in his bottom-six role.

And his offence took off. Podkolzin’s season-long numbers say he scored eight points in 30 games, but with a little context you’ll notice he scored all eight of those points in his last 13 regular season games. That’s a points per game rate of .615, which would rank roughly 62nd in the league across a full season.

But comparing Podkolzin to all players in his 18-year-old KHL season is hardly a way to measure the player. So to give you some historical perspective and context into how Podkolzin is producing relative to other players his age, here are the top five KHL seasons, by points per game, for those who were under the age of 19, per EliteProspects.com:

Eeli Tolvanen, Jokerit, 2017-18: 0.73
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Traktor Chelyabinsk, 2010-11: 0.73
Vladimir Tarasenko, Sibir Novosibirsk, 2009-10: 0.57
Kirill Kaprizov, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, 2015-16: 0.51
Pavel Buchnevich, Severstal Cherepovets, 2013-14: 0.45

And Podkolzin is still going. His SKA team just finished a first-round sweep of Vityaz, in which Podkolzin recorded a goal and two assists — plus he recorded a heavy 24:31 of ice time in a Game 4 that required three overtimes. That was the only game in the series in which he did not record a point. His ice time and six shots on goal that game were career-highs for him in the KHL.

Podkolzin’s strength to this point has been his defensive and hockey sense as well as his physical nature, but we’re seeing now how his offensive game could thrive if given the right opportunity.

Since Podkolzin’s KHL contract runs another season, he’s expected to stay there through 2020-21 as well and should earn a bigger role over the full season. That’s where we could see him take off, and where his season-long totals could start jumping off the page ahead of an expected arrival in Vancouver for the 2021-22 season.

In the meantime, SKA awaits its second-round opponent — and excited Canucks fans wait to see what else Podkolzin has up his sleeve for the rest of this run.

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