The Vancouver Canucks caught many by surprise at the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday, taking Russian winger Vasily Podkolzin with the 10th overall pick.
Because of a few reasons, fans are uncertain about what to expect from the Russian and he won’t play for the Canucks for two more years because of his contract with his KHL club.
But if you listened to Podkolzin speak with the media (through a translator) after being drafted, and reading what some scouts have said about him, it’s hard not to be excited and start thinking something special fell into Vancouver’s lap this year.
Podkolzin’s positive spin
Podkolzin was dominant at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, scoring eight goals and 11 points in five games. He was the third ranked draft-eligible prospect for most of the season, until a relatively underwhelming U-18 tournament in April, where he scored one goal and four points in seven games.
While Podkolzin’s production in league play probably suffered because due to jumping between leagues this past season, he had only good things to say about the experience.
“It was really good to have the experience of playing against men,” he said.
“They’re stronger than players in my age group, so it really helped.”
Podkolzin also spoke about how his power-forward style of game will translate to the NHL: “I believe I have the ability to do whatever I’m asked to do. I hope I can be a power forward, a play-making guy and I can score goals as well.”
What the scouts are saying
Jeremy Davis of NextGenHockey.ca is high on Podkolzin, writing this about him before the draft:
Podkolzin’s hands are phenomenal as well and he has no trouble controlling the puck at speed. While he has soft hands and quick feet, he’s far from a finesse player – he’s is a stampeding bull on the ice. So much of his game is based around taking the puck around, over, under and through opponents so that he can drive the net with ferocity.
Podkolzin has all the makings of a possession monster at the professional level. His puck protection skills are fantastic, making him extremely difficult to check. Furthermore, he seems to absolutely hate the very idea of giving up possession.
His physical ability and mindset all but guarantee that he will be at worst a third liner NHL player in short order. Based on his possession-driving style and competitive hunger, I think that he’ll produce enough to be a top six winger, but he is not assured a future as a first line winger.
Harman Dayal, aka Boy Genius, had this reaction to the pick on Twitter.
It’ll take patience and the right development, but there’s a ridiculously high ceiling that could be untapped with Podkolzin
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) June 22, 2019
The Athletic’s Ryan Biech also liked the pick:
Podkolzin was the best player available on my rankings for the Canucks at that pick.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) June 22, 2019
What the GM thinks
Canucks general manager Jim Benning spoke to the media after the first round and he made a comparison that will only build the hype.
The #Canucks revealed that they had Vasili Podkolzin at No. 8 on their board.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) June 22, 2019
“I think he plays a Timo Meier style game where he’s strong on the walls, he’s strong in the corners, he gets to the net, he protects the puck, and he’s got the skill to play with good players,” said Benning. “He makes plays with the puck.”
Benning also confirmed that he’s not worried about Podkolzin’s contract status in Russia and his desire to play in the NHL.
“We’ve looked into all that, spoken to his agent. He wants to come over after two years. I guess there’s a little risk involved but we’re confident from the things his agent said that he’s going to come over in two years.”
With the first round in the books, fans will be wondering what’s coming in the rest of the draft and beyond. Benning was asked if he’ll try to add some defencemen to the system on Saturday.
His answer might surprise you.
“We have a lot of good young defencemen in our system right now,” he replied.
“We need to restock the shelves at forward, so if there’s a good forward we’ll draft him.”
Perhaps he’ll look to add a defenceman through trade. Maybe even Tyson Barrie?
Benning hinted that the draft won’t be the end of his attempts to make additions for next year’s team.
“We’ve got tomorrow, we’ve got this week with trades, we’ve got free agency coming up, so we’d like to add if we can.”