A bull in a china shop, Podkolzin is a physical presence at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he is a battler who works the boards better than any of the top prospects in the draft. He uses his physically mature frame to bully defenders to get to the front of the net with a variety of power moves. Defensively, he throws his body around without worry. His compete level is top-notch, relentless in all three zones.
Name: Vasili Podkolzin
Date of Birth: June 24, 2001
Nationality (Place of Birth): Russia (Moskva, Russia)
The above spider graph, courtesy of Kyle Pereira of Puck77, displays the available data from Will Scouch. As shown, Podkolzin doesn’t rate highly among his peers anywhere but does keep pace in shot generation. This could be an affect of his constant changing of teams or it could be cause for concern making Podkolzin a sizeable risk.
The best word to describe Podkolzin would be “Powerful”. The high-motor Russian is easily one of the most competitive players in this draft class. He is a powerful skater with good edges and great balance. He uses his edges to drive the net with consistency and routinely wins battles in front of the net. Rarely out-worked, Podkolzin does an excellent job getting a quick first step creating instant acceleration. While his top speed isn’t elite, it is above average and he reaches it so fast that he’s often ahead in a race to the loose puck. He changes direction and handles the puck in tight on defenders with ease to create space for himself. In the video below, Podkolzin shows off excellent acceleration to transition the puck through the zone and then gets an unbelievable assist, recognizing he had support on the net drive.
So, Vasili Podkolzin did something cool. The strip, acceleration, dangles, and diving backhand assist.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) February 14, 2019
Not a particularly big player at just 6’1″ and 190lbs, Podkolzin is strong and physically able to battle opponents that are bigger than him. While he doesn’t win every battle against more physically mature players, he is able to work hard to prevent losing position at the very least. He competes along the boards like a lion attacking a gazelle, winning puck battles in corners seemingly because he wants the puck more. Taking a shift off against Podkolzin isn’t an option because his motor never stops. As he develops more physically, he will be able to continue doing the same thing to players at the NHL level.
In the offensive zone, Podkolzin is a man of many talents. He is a scorer that does it in a variety of ways. He is able to score off the rush with a good release and hard and heavy wrist and snap shot. He excels in the cycle game and opens up in the circles where he is able to find open space to receive a one-timer. His slap shot is heavy and works well because of his explosive torque created in his core. He features one of the best shots in the draft. In tight, he is able to elevate the puck and make moves in close to create a better angle or find the open space in the net. His playmaking ability is fairly underrated. He is able to make passes and find teammates on a regular basis and does so enough to keep defences honest. He works off the boards and makes crisp passes from the corners. He doesn’t hesitate to send the puck back towards the point and allow his defensemen to stay involved in the offensive cycle game.
— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) April 27, 2019
His defensive zone coverage is good for a winger, as he closes down the boards and relentlessly fights for 50/50 pucks. He doesn’t shy away from physical play, willingly engaging to separate the puck carrier from the puck. He is deceptive when lifting the stick and taking the puck away, going unnoticed until it’s too late. In the video above, Podkolzin shows off his penalty killing against the stacked US team at the World U18s. After recovering possession, he does an excellent job getting on his horse, skating through players who are caught flat footed and turning opposing blue-liners inside-out through the neutral zone. Excelling at controlling the puck through the the middle of the ice. Containing the Russian power forward is difficult to do once his legs start pumping.
Podkolzin has built up a reputation as a performer on the international stage for Russia. He had four points in four games at the World U18 last year, as well as 12 points in 13 games at the U17s. His club play has always been good yet unspectacular on the stats sheet. He had 30 points in 21 games for his club team last year in the Russian U17 league. Looking to begin his year on a high note, he captained the Russian team at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in August of 2018.
Video courtesy of Hockey Prospects Center Youtube page
Coming into the season as a highly touted prospect, Podkolzin blew expectations out of the water. As arguably the most dominant player at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in the preaseson, the draft community began to speak of Podkolzin as a truly elite talent that is a top-three talent in this draft class. Finishing tied for first in tournament scoring with 2020 Draft eligible Alexis Lafrenière of team Canada, Podkolzin showed what he can do. A hat-trick against the Americans to capture the bronze is a competitive game set the scouting world on fire. He dominated physically from the start of the tournament until the final buzzer.
Up-and-Down from MHL, VHL and KHL
Starting the season in the MHL (Russian Junior League) and playing nine games producing eight points in those mince games for his most productive stretch of the season for any of his club teams. During this stretch he was able to display his full skillset scoring goals off the rush, in tight on the net and off the cycle. Podkolzin was able to out muscle players in this age group, often looking like a man amongst boys physically. His shooting talent was evident as he had five goal in that stretch to begin the season.
Upon being moved to the VHL (Second tier Russian league), Podkolzin scored in his second game but then failed to put anything on the board in his final five games of this VHL stint. After a brief single game call up to the KHL with no results, he returned to the VHL for a pair of games with a point. This short stint was followed by a couple cameos with the national team, including a decent World Junior tournament.
Shortly after the World Juniors, a second stint in the KHL came with the big club. Although the tenacious forward didn’t record a point, he displayed some of his puck skills and skating ability. He was able to compete physically without an issue and he showed consistent effort. His never-ending motor allowed him to make an impact in other areas of the game, playing a good 200-foot game in the top men’s league outside of the NHL. He didn’t seem behind the play or struggling with pace in any way at the KHL level.
After up-and-down transitions from the MHL and VHL the rest of the season, the Russian power-sniper was good in both the VHL and MHL playoffs. In eight VHL games, Podkolzin produced three points in their brief run. Playing at a point-per-game pace in the abbreviated three game playoff stint in the MHL, Podkolzin was effective in both leagues playoff series, yet unspectacular. His club team season was riddled with inconsistent play and inconsistent team assignment.
Success with Russian National Team
Known as an international team, big moment producer, Podkolzin lived up to the hype more times than not. In the Hlinka-Gretzky and the World Junior-A Championships, Podkolzin absolutely dominated. In 11 combined games, he produced 19 points, with eight goals in the five games at the Hlinka-Gretzky alone. The final time that Podkolzin represented Russia at the U18 level was at the recent World U18s. This is the only tournament that he faced criticism in internationally. Asked to play a more defensive role, he displayed his 200-foot game and flashed offensively but struggled to gain a footing in the offensive zone. With just four points in seven games, Podkolzin and the Russian team fought to get to the gold medal game, only to fall to the Swedish entrant of the tournament.
At the U20 level, Podkolzin played lower on the depth chart and played quite well in games with players two years his senior. The World Junior Championships over the New Year showed how much Podkolzin had committed to the defensive end of the ice. With just three points in seven games, his offensive contributions were not needed as the Russian team worked their way to a bronze medal in a year where they weren’t expected to compete. In total, Podkolzin played 34 games with various Russian national teams at a variety of levels. In those games he produced at a solid rate, with 46 points, good for 1.35 points-per-game. Overall, Podkolzin showed both offensive skills and defensive prowess on the international stage, keeping his reputation as a big moment performer.
What the Detractors Say
The knocks on Podkolzin have a lot to do with his lacking club team production this season. With inconsistencies as to where Podkolzin was playing at a given time have a lot to do with the mediocre counting stats. Unfortunately, the largest sample size we have for the the young Russian on a club team is the 14 games he played in the VHL, the second tier league under the KHL. His five points in those 14 games weren’t overwhelming in a positive or negative way. He showed his skills at the KHL level in a brief three game stint with SKA St. Petersburg. He also played at the MHL level in the SKA system. In the 12 games in the Russian junior hockey league, he accumulated eight points, six of which were goals. For all of the criticism that Podkolzin takes for his club stats, it’s often not taken into consideration that he barely played in one spot with any regularity.
Vasili Podkolzin will be taken…
Anywhere from three to twelve, maybe even later. The stock of Podkolzin has fallen for some over the latter half of the hockey calendar. His mediocre performance at the World U18s seemed to be the real drop off for most evaluators. The powerful Russian winger has been one of the most divisive prospects in this draft class, certainly the hardest to gauge in the top half of the draft. He has the tools to be a power forward at the NHL level and when he has flashed the net drive, skating, hard shot and good vision, he looks like an unstoppable force.
Having played for seemingly every team possible, he wasn’t able to get a footing anywhere he played. It’s been disappoint that he has been moved around so much and also played in all the international tournaments he could. Should a team fall in love with the toolsy forward, he could be a top-five selection. However, if teams deem his lack of total production and the fact that he will likely come over in two years, he could be a massive faller in the draft.
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