Vasily Podkolzin has landed.
Podkolzin is the biggest name at the Vancouver Canucks’ rookie camp, which kicked off on Friday. Prior to the first on-ice session, Podkolzin was made available to the media.
After answering a few questions in Russian with help from a translator, Podkolzin was asked if he was nervous about transitioning to a new city, new language, and new team. For the first time, he answered in English.
“No, I’m not nervous,” said Podkolzin, then laughed heartily.
"I try to speak English as much as possible."
Podkolzin doesn’t seem nervous about anything, least of all improving his English. It may still be a work in progress but Podkolzin says he’s completely comfortable in Vancouver, surrounded by English speakers.
“I'm having no issues, I try to speak English as much as possible,” said Podkolzin via his translator. “I understand everyone around me, I just need a little bit of time to learn English.”
“In interview,” he interjected in English with a smile.
In other words, he’s comfortable enough with English in everyday settings, but it’s a bit more of a challenge to find the right words when answering questions from the media, which is completely understandable. Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki famously used a translator with the media throughout his career, even though he had a firm grasp of the English language.
“We have to connect to our fans through the media, and when you talk about that, it's got to come from your heart,” said Ichiro once through his translator. “And when it comes from your heart, it has to be absolutely consistent.”
Podkolzin said that he and his wife will hire an English tutor once training camp begins so they can work on their language skills together. He’s already getting a head start with his new teammates, such as Nils Höglander, who was selected in the same draft.
“We’re really good friends,” said Podkolzin via translator. “We’re trying to speak English to each other and we go out to dinners.”
According to Podkolzin, all of his new teammates are “very pleasant people” off the ice. On the ice, Canucks fans are hoping Podkolzin can make life very unpleasant for his opponents.
The Canucks need Podkolzin to be, at the very least, a solid third-line forward this season, something he should be able to do with his well-rounded two-way game. The addition of Podkolzin to the lineup gives the Canucks some much-needed depth and could help give the team three lines that can contribute offensively. That’s something they haven’t had in recent years.
This rookie camp is key to get Podkolzin quickly acclimated and ready for main training camp. While moost of the other players on the ice on Friday will start the season in the AHL, Podkolzin’s already penciled into the starting lineup.
The first on-ice session started slowly, with detailed instruction from the Abbotsford Canucks’ new skating coach, Mackenzie Braid. As the session progressed towards battle drills, Podkolzin started to stand out more and more, protecting the puck with his size, strength, and stickhandling. Of the 9 skaters on the ice, Podkolzin seemed clearly a cut above.
He’ll need to be, of course. Podkolzin is looking to do more than just stand out among his fellow prospects. He’s looking to be an impact player in the NHL. If he didn’t stand out, it would be a cause for concern.
There was, however, one other prospect on the ice Friday that came up to Podkolzin’s level: Mikey DiPietro. The young goaltender joined the rookie camp to give them two goaltenders with Arturs Silovs and was a nightmarish brick wall for the poor skaters at camp, refusing to let pucks get by him.
Even Podkolzin couldn’t solve DiPietro. The young Russian pulled off a slick deke to his forehand that pulled DiPietro out of his net, but the goaltender reached back with his stick to rob him.
Still, that shouldn’t dissuade Podkolzin. If the only player at camp that could trouble him was a goaltender knocking at the door of the NHL, he’s in good company.
So no, Podkolzin isn’t nervous. He’s calm, confident, and comfortable.
“I’m ready to be here and start my career in the NHL.”