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Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin is a point-per-game so far in the KHL playoffs

The Canucks have taken a turn towards depressing over the last week, but there’s some solace to be found in the performance of their top prospect, Vasili Podkolzin.
Podkolzin scores with perfect shot from the point 0-43 screenshot
Vasili Podkolzin. photo: KHL / YouTube

The Canucks have taken a turn towards depressing over the last week, but there’s some solace to be found in the performance of their top prospect, Vasili Podkolzin.

Earlier in the season, some Canucks fans were concerned about Podkolzin’s lack of production. The Canucks’ 10th overall pick had no points in his first 17 KHL games this season and had 5 points in 7 games at the World Junior Championships — decent production, but not top-10 pick production.

There’s context that matters, of course. In many of those early KHL games, Podkolzin had under five minutes in ice time — in three of them, he played less than a minute — so it’s hard to criticize him for racking up points. His KHL team, SKA, is fairly notorious for favouring older, established veterans, so even sticking with the team in the KHL is fairly impressive. And, at the World Juniors, Podkolzin had a fantastic tournament and should have had more points but for the lack of finish from his linemates.

Still, it was a relief when Podkolzin broke out late in the season, going on a four-game point streak, then chipping in a few more points as the regular season wound down. He tallied 8 points in his final 13 regular season games, as he finally started getting a little more ice time, averaging over 12 minutes per game.

Podkolzin has kept that momentum going to start the KHL playoffs, as he has points in all three games to start the first round of the Gagarin Cup. He’s on the fourth line with a pair of fellow youths: 19-year-old Kirill Marchenko, a prospect for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and 20-year-old Ivan Morozov, a prospect for the Vegas Golden Knights.

That line is playing limited minutes for SKA — Podkolzin is averaging 11:03 per game in the playoffs — but they’ve been incredibly dangerous. Marchenko has three goals and five points in three games, tying him for second in playoff scoring with former Canucks prospect Nicklas Jensen, while Podkolzin and Morozov both have three points.

Podkolzin kicked things off with a nifty assist on a Marchenko goal. If you’re feeling charitable, it was entirely intentional, an incredible heads-up play to make a pass between a defender’s legs and leave the goaltender floundering.

If you’re feeling a little more realistic, Podkolzin was trying to pull the puck to his forehand for a shot, but his stick hit the defender’s leg as he tried to do so. Still, he’s winning a battle in front of the net, which is what you like to see from a power forward prospect.

In his second game, Podkolzin picked up his first playoff goal with a perfectly-placed shot.

First, Podkolzin pounced on a loose puck off a scrambled puck battle, then set up Marchenko for a great chance from between the hashmarks that was stopped. Then Marchenko returned the favour as Vityaz scrambled defensively, sending a pass to Podkolzin in the left faceoff circle that gave him aeons of time to pick his spot.

Podkolzin picked well, getting the goaltender to guess glove side, then ripping a wrist shot past the blocker. 

Finally, in his most recent game on Thursday, Podkolzin picked up another assist.

Podkolzin and Marchenko showcased some nice chemistry moving up the ice through the neutral zone, playing a slick give-and-go to gain the zone. Podkolzin moved in with the puck down the right wing while Marchenko cut into the middle.

The shot from Podkolzin was low and hard, likely designed for a rebound, and the goaltender kicked it right out to Marchenko, who swatted a backhand at the net that somehow snuck over the line.

That gives Podkolzin 11 points in his last 16 KHL games.

Again, Podkolzin is still just 18, as his birthday isn’t until late June. His three points is already the fourth-best playoff performance from an 18 year old in the KHL and he’s just three games in. With some luck, he can pass top New York Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov, whose 11 points in 2017-18 is the current best performance from an 18 year old.

That would be easier if SKA deigned to give the youth line of Podkolzin, Morozov, and Marchenko a little more ice time, but even in limited minutes, Podkolzin is proving his worth.

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