Away from the KHL, Podkolzin led the way as captain of the Russian team.
For those looking for a fix at the Canucks, there’s at least one Canucks player you can look at: the team’s best prospect, Vasily Podkolzin.
Podkolzin is in action this week in Finland, playing for the Russian team in the Karjala Cup. Their first game of the tournament was on Thursday morning, but you can watch the entire game on YouTube, where it was broadcast by Russia Hockey.
For Podkolzin, it must have been a nice change of pace from his KHL season with SKA St. Petersburg. In the KHL, Podkolzin struggled to score points, mainly because he gets minimal ice time. He averages only 11:58 per game, but that average is higher from a handful of games where he has had more time on the ice because half of his teammates were in quarantine with COVID- 19.
Most recently, Podkolzin was sent to the VHL, Russia’s second-tier men’s league, and when he returned to the KHL he was only 3:52 in ice time.
Podkolzin’s KHL season is of concern to Canucks fans, but for two different reasons. Some worry that his lack of point production in the KHL means he doesn’t have an offensive top-six advantage in his NHL future. Others fear that his lack of ice time in the KHL could derail his development.
Together with the Russian team, Podkolzin will hopefully alleviate these two problems. On Thursday, he led all Russian forwards in ice time and had two assists along the way.
Podkolzin was named captain of the Russian team ahead of the Karjala Cup, which was a bit surprising, but only because the Cup, as part of the Euro Hockey Tour, is apparently a men’s tournament. The Euro Hockey Tour is typically used by the four participating countries – Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic – to prepare for the World Championships or the Olympics or to assess the players of the Men’s National Team.
Instead, Russia has dressed up an all-junior roster, using the games instead to prepare for the Junior World Championship which kicks off this Christmas.
The reasoning behind sending a U20 team to Finland was simple: other U20 tournaments have been canceled or have had their format changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to send a junior team was not popular in Finland, obviously, with a Finnish hockey writer calling it “scandalous”.
Maybe Finland should have sent their U20 teams to the Karjala Cup as well. Their U20 teams were supposed to play three games this week also in preparation for the World Juniors, but two Swedish players tested positive for COVID-19, which led to the event being canceled.
Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen certainly didn’t seem impressed with Russia’s decision.
“Frankly speaking, we have no interest in playing against a U20 team,” he said. “We’ll play if we have to, but we don’t care. ”
Maybe he said this because he didn’t expect much from the teenagers playing against his men’s team, but Russia quickly made him eat his words, taking a 1-0 lead in the first two minutes of the match. They never looked back, hitting Finland 6-2.
Podkolzin helped lead the way with his two assists and generally high work rate on the front deck and in the neutral zone. He played in all situations, killing penalties and working in front of the net on the power play, and was clearly one of the best players in Russia.
He collected his first assist on the 3-0 goal, passing the puck past a Finnish defender on the boards with one hand on his stick, then settling the rebounding puck and sending a pass through traffic to Ilya Safonov for the finish .
– Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) November 5, 2020
Podkolzin’s second assist came on the power play, but he had a lot more to do with the finish than the setup.
He simply moved the puck towards Yegor Afanasyev on the right boards, then parked in front of the net while Afanasyev played with Danil Chayka at the top of the area. When Chayka finally released a shot from the goal, Podkolzin was there to filter the goalie and almost flipped the puck into himself.
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Podkolzin played the netting role well on the power play, occasionally stepping aside to provide a passing option or to create scoring opportunities, using his large frame and quick hands to protect the puck.
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As is typical of Podkolzin, his play in the defensive zone and the neutral zone was just as good as his work in the attacking zone. He made some nice breaks from the penalty spot, but I wanted to highlight this streak in the third period.
Podkolzin starts the breakout by playing a savvy game along the boards: instead of trying to force a pass down the middle, he makes a smooth backhand pass across the boards to trigger a Russian stampede. He follows the play, picks up the puck along the nearby planks and brings it back to Afanasyev.
When Afanasyev loses the puck, Podkolzin heads to the best place to retrieve the puck, stealing the puck from a Finnish player at the blue line and making a clever toe to escape a check. He was then able to recover the puck in the Finnish zone to facilitate a line change.
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The game didn’t end in a goal, although Russia had a few shots on goal in the run Podkolzin created it still shows how Podkolzin does whatever it takes on the ice to push possession of the washer in the right direction. There’s a reason coaches love him, except maybe his trainer in the KHL with SKA.
Either way, it seems clear that Podkolzin is going to get ice time with the Russian U20 team that he doesn’t fit into the KHL. Now it’s up to him to provide the point production.
The Canucks have another perspective with the Russian team, 2020 6th round pick Dmitry Zlodeyev. As an unannounced 18-year-old, Zlodeyev will likely have a hard time getting into the world junior team and playing minimal minutes against Finland. He only entered the ice in the third period with the game out of reach and only then in the special teams, taking changes on penalty and power play.