Podkolzin Under Tocchet

By: Brayden Fengler / April 3, 2023  

Last season, Vasily Podkolzin was the only Russian player on the Vancouver Canucks. This year, he started the season with a Russian teammate in Kuzmenko but was sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks partway through the season.

Under new coach Rick Tocchet, Podkolzin has returned to Vancouver’s main club and has made an impact in ways that he was unable to earlier this season. Is this the start of a long stay in Vancouver for Podklozin? Or will he be among the first to go yet again, when the Canucks look to add new pieces this off-season?

Podkolzin’s Initial Impact In Vancouver

During the 21-22 campaign Podkolzin played almost every game with Vancouver. In 79 games the Russian-born prospect was able to earn himself a nearly equal amount of both goals and points on the balance of the season. Podkolzin netted 14 goals for Vancouver, nearly hitting that sought-after 20-goal mark, which often indicates a truly successful rookie campaign. He also finished last season with 12 apples, contributing a total of 26 points in his first NHL season.

Podkolzin was also given an ever-so-brief opportunity to play with the Abbotsford Canucks last season during their playoffs. He only skated with the team for two games before they were eliminated in the first round, which in the AHL consists of just a best-of-three series. During Podkolzin’s two games, he earned a total of two points, again evenly divided between goals and assists.

That level of first-year production was not Pettersson or Hughes level impressive, but it did go to show that Podkolzin can have a place on this team, and in the NHL, even if he might not crack the line-up of an improved Vancouver Canucks team just yet.

While with Abbotsford

Podkolzin did crack the opening night roster for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and skated with the club under then-head coach Bruce Boudreau until the end of November. This saw Vasily take the ice for a total of 16 games to start the Canuck’s season, after which he only had three points to show for all his efforts.

Podkolzin’s ice time was considerable during the beginning of the season, ranging between 12-15 minutes per night, so it’s not as though he was restricted to riding the pine for the first two months of the NHL season. He just wasn’t clicking. The same could be said for the team as a whole during that part of the year, as fans and management alike were beginning to realize that the changes made in the off-season did not in fact put this team in a better position to win. It was a complicated and disappointing time for all and Podkolzin was unfortunately one of the pieces that Canucks management lost patience with first.

Once in Abbotsford Podkolzin did not regress any further in regard to production. He had an immediate impact on the success of the team. It can be a big ego blow to many young stars when they are sent down for the first time. It’s part of the development process that many players have to go through, but for players that have already tasted some degree of personal success in the NHL, it can be a rude awakening that maintaining that success is a lot of work in and of itself. Podkolzin did not let these mental hurdles impact his game, earning 18 points across 28 AHL contests.

Podkolzin’s consistency and willingness to embrace the opportunity of further development at the AHL level would ultimately earn him a call-up in early February, where he would play under new coach Rick Tocchet for the first time.

Utilization and Performance Under Tocchet

Since Podkolzin’s call-up, he has played 23 more games for the Canucks this season and likely benefitted from developing in the AHL during the months of December and January, rather than languishing through the slow destruction of the Bruce Boudreau Canucks.

Podkolzin has since had many different line partners during the latter half of this NHL season. He’s skated alongside Andrei Kuzmenko and Elias Pettersson in a second-line position. He’s also most often been paired up with Sheldon Dries and Vitali Kravtsov. The line that has been most effective for the Canucks and Podkolzin however has been his time spent with J.T. Miller and Conor Garland. This combination has seen a CORSI for a percentage well above 50, at 61.7%. This line has been allowing only around half as many shots on their net as they have been producing themselves against the other team.

This line hasn’t seen the most consistent deployment, but it speaks to Podkolzin’s ability to play with high-calibre players. Miller is no doubt an offensive workhorse, and the intensity that Garland plays with is like virtually no other. The fact that Podkolzin can fit right in and produce on a line as demanding as that is impressive.

The Future

The future of this team as a whole is unclear, much like Podkolzin’s future. Next year Podkolzin will be in the final year of his ELC, at which point he will be an RFA during the 2024-25 season if the Canucks do not extend him on a new contract.

Podkolzin still has time to prove that he belongs on this Vancouver team, he’s on the right track thanks to his production under Tocchet. The big question is, as the Canucks are looking to perform a “retool” rather than a rebuild, will Podkolzin fit into the team’s accelerated timeline in their goal of creating a better Canucks team “now”, or will Podkolzin end up being an unfortunate sacrifice on the team’s road back to contention?