In a draft as volatile as the 2019 edition, player rankings are inevitably going to differ widely depending on where you look.
But with Vasili Podkolzin, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of how he has been viewed throughout the year in the eyes of scouts.
Just a few months ago, the 6-foot-1 Russian winger was considered by many to be the third-best prospect available.
Now? Many have him as a borderline top-10 prospect, with some even putting him in the later half of the first round.
It happens fairly often – a prospect seen as a surefire top-5 pick slips in the rankings throughout the year. An example is Timothy Liljegren in 2017. Considered a top-3 pick to start the year, Liljegren ended up falling all the way to the Toronto Maple Leafs at 17th overall.
So why has Podkolzin’s stock dropped, and should the Vancouver Canucks be weary of selecting him at 10th overall if he falls that far?
A speedy left-shot forward who often plays the right wing, Podkolzin turned heads last year at the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament in August.
There, Podkolzin showed off his unique skillset, leading the tournament in goals (8) and tying with Alexis Lafreniere for the most points (11) while leading Russia to a bronze medal.
— Hockey Guy (@FlyingSkate94) August 10, 2018
In this tournament, Podkolzin was an absolute force and his speed, puck-handling and finishing ability was on full display. He scored eight times in seven games at the Hlinka and many of them were end-to-end highlight-reel goals like this one.
— David Nestico (@davidnestico200) August 11, 2018
Certainly you can see why people were quick to tag him as one of this draft’s top prospects.
Those thoughts were re-affirmed at the World Juniors in Vancouver, where Podkolzin was very noticeable on Russia’s bronze-medal team and had three assists in seven games despite limited minutes.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) December 31, 2018
Since then however, there are a few factors that have made scouts second guess Podkolzin, with probably the biggest reason being a lack of production in league play.
Podkolzin spent time in three different Russian leagues this season, and struggled to produce in all of them, albeit in relatively low sample sizes.
The MHL is a Russian junior league, and there Podkolzin had eight points in 12 games. For a point of reference, Pavel Dorofeyev (projected as a late first-round pick) had 31 points in 19 games in the same league this year, blowing Podkolzin’s production out of the water.
Points aren’t everything, but they shouldn’t be ignored either, and Podkolzin’s lack of scoring outside of international play is concerning.
Then again, watching him play it’s clear he is a gifted player.
So, Vasili Podkolzin did something cool. The strip, acceleration, dangles, and diving backhand assist.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) February 14, 2019
Another concern some teams may have is that Podkolzin is signed for another two years with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia. That means his earliest possible NHL arrival would be the 2021-22 season.
There’s also the worst-case scenario that Podkolzin chooses to stay in Russia for longer, which has happened with other high-profile Russians in the past like Kirill Kaprizov and Nikita Gusev.
To his credit, Podkolzin has stated he does plan to come to the NHL after the two final years on his KHL contract are up.
Those negatives may be why he isn’t viewed as the consensus third-best prospect (in combination with other prospects forcing their way up the rankings), but how far should he really be pushed down the list?
The question on Podkolzin is essentially this; are teams willing to look past the pedestrian counting stats and two-year wait time for a player that oozes potential?
For the Canucks specifically, there’s no easy answer at 10th overall. It depends on which players are still available, and this draft in particular seems incredibly tough to project.
My hunch is the Canucks are hoping to get a player who can make an impact sooner than later, and that may turn them off of Podkolzin.
But as the old saying goes, ‘good things come to those who wait,’ and Podkolzin could make a patient team very happy in a few years’ time.