While he may not be in consideration for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, Vasily Podkolzin has had a solid first year with the Vancouver Canucks.
Podkolzin has earned more and more trust as the season has progressed, proving in recent weeks that he can handle a top-six role. Despite limited time on the power play, Podkolzin is tied for sixth on the Canucks with 14 goals, which is good for 12th among NHL rookies.
Canucks fans haven’t heard much from Podkolzin this year, however. Because of his limited English, Podkolzin’s interviews during training camp were all conducted with the assistance of an interpreter, who also helped with prospect Danila Klimovich. Since then, Podkolzin hasn’t spoken with the media at all.
It’s understandable — Russian and English are two very different languages. The East Slavic origins of Russian are quite different from the Germanic and romance language roots of English, which can make it difficult to learn and master English for a native Russian speaker and vice versa.
After a season of being immersed in an English environment, Podkolzin felt confident enough to do a media availability all on his own on Thursday ahead of the Canucks’ final home game of the season.
"My English is still so bad."
“It’s going to be funny,” he joked right off the bat. “My English is still so bad. Give me simple questions, please.”
He was selling himself short. Podkolzin rattled off answers with ease and showcased the natural charisma that has made him a leader at other levels.
“Thank you,” he said with a grin after a compliment on his English skills. “I had an English teacher in Russia but you can’t know all the rules without having practice. You can’t speak, you can’t talk. I haven’t got Russian guys on my team, so I heard new words every day. I think I began to feel better after New Year. I began to understand coach and teammates. It’s really fun when you can speak and understand.”
Still, it was clear that his vocabulary is still growing. For instance, he evidently doesn’t have the word “veteran” in his vocabulary, so he just calls them “old guys.” When talking about what he’s learned the most, he talked about puck battles on the forecheck and along the wall, noting, “Old guys talk with me every day about it.”
“I’m still learning every day — about English, about hockey, as a player, as a person,” said Podkolzin. “Old guys and young guys always support me and that’s really appreciated.”
"The first NHL goal, I'll always remember it."
Podkolzin was asked about his favourite moment from the season and he took a moment to consider before deciding on two times he scored goals.
“So many good memories for this season,” he said. “I think the first NHL goal, I’ll always remember it. I remember the goal against Columbus, when we were losing 3-0 and came back.”
Podkolzin’s first goal was a beauty that was reminiscent of Elias Pettersson’s first NHL goal. It came in just the second game of the season, when his English vocabulary was still developing, but even if he had the vocabulary of an expert Scrabble player, he might still have only repeatedly screamed, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The goal against the Blue Jackets may not have been as pretty but it was memorable for its importance. Down by three goals after the first period, the Canucks clawed their way back in with goals from Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, but still needed one more to tie the game.
Midway through the third period, Podkolzin was on a line with Pettersson and Conor Garland, but it was Quinn Hughes who provided the setup for a memorable tying goal with a great backdoor pass.
That led to a thrilling finish, with Horvat scoring the game-winning goal in the final minute. No wonder it was so memorable for Podkolzin. It gave the Canucks their fifth-straight win under head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Speaking of Boudreau, Podkolzin was quick to praise his head coach.
“He told me, you can speak with me every day. You’ve got to talk to me every day,” said Podkolzin. “I remember when I met with [Alex] Ovechkin, he said to me, Bruce can help me in my career, as a player and as a person too. He’s a great coach, I’m happy to work with him. I hope we’ll work with him next season.”
“Bruce told me stories about Ovechkin,” he added with a smile, though he didn’t elaborate.
"I hope I can bring...some good hockey for Abbotsford."
While the Canucks’ season will end after Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Podkolzin’s season will continue, as he’s expected to suit up for the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL playoffs. There’ll be no Calder Trophy for Podkolzin but there might be a Calder Cup.
“I talked with Bruce about it after the deadline and he said it’s good for you, good for your experience,” said Podkolzin. “You’ll be a better player after this playoff and the extra games.”
“I hope I can bring something, some good hockey for Abbotsford,” he added.
While he’s eager to challenge himself in the AHL Playoffs, Podkolzin is also eager to return home to Russia.
“After the season, I’m back to home — get some rest, get some time with my parents, with my wife, with my family and friends,” he said. “And back to hard work, because I know how to play here — back to hard work for next season.”
"So many good cities in USA."
My favourite anecdote that came out of the interview is that Podkolzin has developed an affinity for a certain genre of music. When asked about which cities and arenas he enjoyed visiting the most, he had a couple of obvious choices, and one slightly less expected.
“Probably Madison Square Garden. That’s a legendary rink. I wanted to play in Chicago but I missed two games in Chicago,” he said, laughing. He was a healthy scratch for both games in the Windy City, but he noted that he’s sure he’ll play in the city next season.
“So many good cities in USA,” he added. “I’d never been in New York or Chicago or Nashville. Country music is so good and I never heard it in KHL.”
There we go: Podkolzin enjoyed Nashville because he’s become a fan of country music.
While Podkolzin evidently has a new favourite genre of music, does he have a favourite new word that he’s learned?
“Favourite English word?” said Podkolzin, considering, then laughed when it was clarified that it had to be a word he could say on television. After all, he’s spent a lot of time around J.T. Miller, who is renowned for his command of one particular English word.
Then Podkolzin got a glint of mischief in his eyes before he repeated his favourite English phrase.
“Bruce, there it is.”