Vasili Podkolzin, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Position: Right Wing
Age on Draft Day: 18.00 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’1, 190 pounds
2018-2019 Stats : 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PIM
NHL Central Scouting (Europe only): 2nd
Bob McKenzie: 3rd
Craig Button: 3rd
ISS Hockey: 4th
Elite Prospects: 11th
First, here are some thoughts from Alex Nunn.
Alex: Vasili Podkolzin is a workhorse winger who does everything well. He can run a power play, lead a penalty kill, and carry his line at even strength without ever taking a shift off.
His skating is very good and Podkolzin will beat out most in a puck battle through sheer persistence. He carries possession to dangerous spots well and can release a wicked wrister or slapshot from anywhere inside the blueline. His shot is not always the hardest, but it gets off the stick fast and is deadly accurate.
Though he lacks great overall top speed, Podkolzin’s first few steps do enough to create separation and it puts himself in position to protect the puck with his strong frame and drive the net with a good forehand move. He’s capable of beating opponents inside and out, stickhandling through traffic, or wearing defensemen down along the boards to open up quick striking chances.
Podkolzin’s engine drives his game. He never switches off and has defensemen looking over their shoulder with a constant forecheck. He’s happy to battle against all opponents in the corner and uses his great hands to get the puck into the slot quickly and accurately after winning possession.
Podkolzin sees the ice well and distributes to all areas, though he is a shoot-first winger and can tend at times to hog the puck a little too long with his head down at the expense of better-positioned teammates. He is in general a great team player, though, and can be relied on by coaches to go out and do a job in all situations and at all times.
Podkolzin’s MHL and VHL draft-year numbers don’t stand out the way many would like, but in the context of individual time on ice, league scoring, and quality of opposition, it’s not something that overly concerns me. His early-season MHL production was just fine, and since then Podkolzin has bounced around while playing against men.
Podkolzin is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He’s also one of the most complicated.
He is a catalyst who is noticeable every time he steps on the ice. His skating stride is somewhat clunky, but he has enough power in his legs to move his way around the rink and into positions where he can make something happen. He’s one of the best defensive wingers I’ve seen at the U18 level. Here is one of my favorite clips from the past season. Watch for No. 19 in red as he effectively kills a penalty by himself and also sets up two shorthanded chances.
In this next example, watch how Podkolzin doesn’t miss a beat when possession changes. He’s immediately thinking about making that extra effort to suffocate the play and return possession to his team.
While his puck skills are merely okay, Podkolzin has a way of just brute forcing offense into existence. He has these sort of maniacal moments where he’ll hold the puck for long periods of time and refuse to concede possession. He’ll carry up the ice and beat multiple defenders in pursuit of a scoring chance. At his best, he’s an absolute nuisance to defend, creating chances from nothing, drawing penalties, and scoring incredible goals. He is very strong on his skates and powers his way to the net.
As Alex mentioned, Podkolzin is a shoot-first winger with a great release. He is very good at putting one-timers high and on net. His release is deceptive and he can beat goaltenders from distance.
The trouble with evaluating Podkolzin is that his season was fragmented. If scouts were only allowed to evaluate players based on their 10-best games, Podkolzin would be a shoo-in for third overall. In fact, at the start of the season that pretty much happened. Podkolzin was absolutely dominant in August’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup. His tournament-leading eight goals were the highest single-tournament total I could find as far back as 1999. Following the tournament, many outlets had Podkolzin as the third-ranked player in the draft.
However, his domestic performances weren’t so hot.
For reference, Pavel Buchnevich was practically a point-per-game player in the MHL (Russian junior league) at the same age, while Vitali Kravtsov had seven points in nine VHL games (Russian pseudo-equivalent of the AHL) during his draft season.
The flip side is that SKA’s decision to move him around so much must have made it hard for Podkolzin to really establish himself. In general, SKA is a tough nut to crack for young players. They’re Russia’s equivalent of Barcelona, with so much money to throw around that they can stack the team with elite, established players. They win a lot because of it, but it can be a struggle for top young talent to find consistent playing time. Just ask Rangers’ prospect Yegor Rykov.
Podkolzin also did not help himself with a lackluster U18 World Championship showing, producing zero goals and three assists in seven games.
If a team is looking for a relatively safe pick, then Podkolzin fits the bill. His motor is absolutely incredible and he has a pretty strong toolkit as well. It’s hard to imagine that he could be much worse than a middle-six NHL winger who plays the penalty kill. At the same time, he has his moments that tease high upside. When the stars align, Podkolzin looks like a first-liner in the making. It plays tricks on the mind. Whichever team drafts him is justified in holding out some hope that he can become a top player, but must accept the more likely possibility that he instead becomes a great supporting player. The listed draft rankings are very misleading, as most were prior to the U18 World Championship. His stock has taken a dramatic fall in the last couple of months.
Podkolzin does have some serious potential to drop in the draft. He and SKA have a contract through 2021, and he fully intends to stay in Russia for at least that period of time. He could very well remain in Russia for four years. This is where the politics of the NHL come into play. If you’re the GM of the Buffalo Sabres (7th overall) or Arizona Coyotes (14th overall), you’re under pressure to get results quickly. Do you really have time to wait multiple years just to get a top draft pick in your system? Furthermore, how confident are you that you’ll be able to pull him away from home to play in your city? We’ve seen this logistical issues result in talented Russians fall in the draft before. It could very well happen to Podkolzin.
Therefore, Podkolzin could be a trade-up option for the Rangers. They’ve shown no hesitation to take Russians before, and have a great track record when it comes to convincing KHLers to sign and even spend time in the AHL when necessary. He plays the game the way the Rangers want to embrace, and with their prospect pool and timeline for contention they can afford to wait. Podkolzin could just as easily go off the board at fourth overall, but if the draft plays out just right then he could be a player the team swoops in to take.
What Others Have Said
“Vasily is one of the few modern guys who you don’t need to push or to motivate: he loves hockey and is incredibly desirous of developing even further,”
- Youth Coach Igor Dekin, via The KHL
“He isn’t the biggest or fastest but he sure can play. He’s smart, he wins battles and makes plays. He scores goals. He creates offence.”
- NHL scout, via TSN