We’re looking back at the 2022-23 Vancouver Canucks with a focus today on Vasily Podkolzin. In the coming weeks, we’re breaking down the season and taking a look at how player situations project going into 2023-24.
Position: Left wing. Right wing.
Career stats: GP: 118. G: 18. A: 15. Pts: 33.
Contract status: Final year of three-year, two-way, US$5.325 million contract signed with Canucks on May 30, 2021. Annual salary cap hit is $925,000 at NHL level.
Expiry status: Restricted free agent.
Vasily Podkolzin is an animal.
The Vancouver Canucks winger was labelled a moose and a bull this National Hockey League season by head coach Rick Tocchet. There were signs that he could turn into a menacing Russian bear next fall, if improving aspects of his game are more visible on a regular basis.
For now, Podkolzin is a wounded beast with a wonky left wrist.
He was injured March 25 in Dallas while blocking a shot with 11:07 remaining in the third period to help preserve a 3-1 victory over the Stars to stretch the Canucks’ success streak to nine wins in 11 games.
The good news was the 21-year-old Moscow native gained confidence in being deployed to deter the Stars. The bad news was he missed the final 10 games of the regular season with the injury. And when dispatched to Abbotsford for the American Hockey League playoffs, he practised but didn’t play.
And when he did take shots, they were neither heavy nor accurate.
“He was getting closer,” Abbotsford general manager Ryan Johnson said Tuesday. “We would have loved for him to experience what our other players went through.
“Look at Nils Hoglander. What he experienced in playoff hockey with how hard it was with the nastiness and compete and the fight, I would have loved to have Pods experience that as well.
“Watching these guys battle will give him a different outlook going into the summer. I expect big things from him at training camp.”
As long as that wrist heals and doesn’t affect his shot and battle level — Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have had adventures with a similar ailment — then the beast should be back with some snarl.
“When he moves his feet, he’s really a bull,” said Tocchet. “Where he and some of our young guys get in trouble is with reads, but I like to get Podkolzin out there in certain situations.”
That’s good because Podkolzin needs to show something. He had but seven points (4-3) in 39 NHL games this season, with just 41 shots and a 9.8 shooting percentage.
How 2022-23 went: Sophomore slump, AHL bump
After an impressive NHL rookie campaign with 26 points (14-12) in 79 games, he hit the wall. With just three assists in 16 games to start this season — including six healthy scratches — he was shipped to fishing school in Abbotsford on Nov. 28.
“The first two weeks were really hard,” Podkolzin told Postmedia. “You start thinking too much. What should I do? What’s happening? I had two ways to go. Give up or work. And it was good for me to get some AHL games to remember who you are and start appreciating.”
With player development tutelage from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, he got a quick grip what it means to be a consummate professional every day, not just some days.
It resulted in 18 points (7-11) in 28 games and a Canucks recall in early February to keep listening and learning and be responsible like he was that night in Dallas.
“There were two minutes left in the game and the puck came around the wall and he reverse-pinched a guy and got the puck out with them pressing on us,” recalled Tocchet.
Two nights earlier, Podkolzin took a pass at speed in the neutral zone, deked a defender and then ripped home a glove-side shot from the slot in a 7-2 romp of the San Jose Sharks.
How the future looks: The knock of opportunity
The Canucks have a glut of wingers, are salary-cap challenged, and need to play a heavier game on the inside and dominate board battles. For the 6-foot-1, 190 pound Podkolzin, that should be music to his ears because he has been teased at as being hard to play against.
With the future of Conor Garland, 27, and Brock Boeser, 26, in constant debate — the Canucks could trying to unload Garland’s salary that has three more years at an annual US$4.95 million cap hit — there could be a new way to wing it for Podkolzin amid competition.
Ilya Mikheyev returns from knee surgery, Anthony Beauvillier needs consistency, Vitali Kravtsov needs to to find his game, Hoglander will try to be a presence and Jack Studnicka could be an extra forward.
Greatest strengths: Scored 14 goals as a rookie. Size and speed excite coaching staff about being good in all zones.
Greatest weakness: Consistency. Can’t be gaps in game awareness and effort.
Is he trade bait?: No. He’s part of the future, not the past.
The big question: Is there 20-goal potential?
More from Canucks under the Microscope series:
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Kyle Burroughs
• Canucks Under the Microscope: J.T. Miller
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Brock Boeser
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Jack Studnicka
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Quinn Hughes
• Canucks Under The Microscope: Nils Aman
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Anthony Beauvillier
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Dakota Joshua
• Canucks Under the Microscope: Conor Garland
Canucks under the Microscope: Kyle Burroughs, the hometown hero
Canucks: No. 11 draft pick will come with upside, question marks
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