Last month, Vancouver Canucks director of player development Ryan Johnson told me that the administrative challenges surrounding Covid-19 were creating obstacles as the team worked to finalize a plan to get its young players onto the ice before training camp.
On Monday, that plan was announced. Rookie camp begins this Thursday, with medicals and fitness testing. Players will then meet with the media via Zoom on Friday morning, before hitting the ice at Rogers Arena on Friday afternoon.
Twelve players are set to take part: eight forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
The forward group, of course, is highlighted by Vasily Podkolzin and Danila Klimovich, who are both suiting up in a Vancouver uniform for the first time.
With a big cultural adjustment ahead for them, it's good news that more social interaction is permitted this season among vaccinated players. The pair has already taken advantage of that: on Monday night, Podkolzin posted a photo of himself on his Instagram, out with Klimovich and Nils Hoglander — and already assuming the Alpha Male spot in the photo.
With this picture, I think we can safely debunk any talk of Podkolzin rolling into camp at 6'4", as we know that Hoglander is, legitimately, 5'9".
The Canucks' release lists the 20-year-old Russian at 6'1" and 190 pounds, which were his stats when he was drafted. At World Juniors in January
, he was listed at 6'4" and 203 pounds, the same as on his KHL bio with SKA St. Petersburg.
Klimovich is listed at 6'2" and 202 pounds. To my eye, he does look a bit taller than Podkolzin here, with about the same build. They're all quite solid.
It's nice that they can hang out with Hoglander, who has already logged a full season. But again, given all the restrictions last year, I don't imagine the sophomore really has much of a sense of where to go or what to do.
I guess the good news is that the Aquilini family's TopTable restaruants like Blue Water Cafe and Elisa Steakhouse are always available.
There are some other interesting names on the rookie camp roster as well. Here's the full list of attendees:
Carson Focht - C - 21 years old - selected in the 5th round of the 2019 draft
Teammates with Jett Woo on the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, Focht attended the Canucks' training camp in Victoria in 2019 before returning to Calgary for a strong final season of junior. He spent last year with the Utica Comets, where he put up 12 points and was a plus-2 in 28 games.
Ethan Keppen - LW - 20 years old - originally selected in the 4th round of the 2019 draft
Keppen played junior with the OHL's Flint Firebirds, and logged seven games with the Comets last season on an amateur tryout contract. The Canucks relinquished his rights when they chose not to sign him to an NHL deal this summer, but brought him back into the fold when they signed him to an AHL contract in August.
Danila Klimovich - C - 18 years old - selected in the 2nd round of the 2021 draft
The big Belarusian is said to still be quite raw, but brimming with potential. He'll be fun to watch though camp.
Connor Lockhart - C - 18 years old - selected in the 6th round of the 2021 draft
Listed at 5'8" and 163 pounds, Lockhart is an Ottawa kid who didn't play last season because of the OHL shutdown. In the 2019-20 season, he put up a respectable 27 points in 57 games as a teammate of Jamie Drysdale's in his first major junior season, as a 16-year-old with the Erie Otters.
Tristen Nielsen - C - 21 years old - signed to AHL contract
Nielsen is the Fort St. John boy who spent most of the last three seasons with the Vancouver Giants, after having been teammates with Carson Focht on the Calgary Hitmen earlier in his WHL career. He signed a two-year AHL contract with Abbotsford in August.
Karel Plasek - RW - 21 years old - selected in the 6th round of the 2019 draft
Another European player who is making his North American debut this fall, Plasek had 10 points in 44 games with HC Kometa Brno of the top Czech league last season. The Canucks signed him to his NHL entry-level contract in June.
Vasily Podkolzin - RW - 20 years old - selected in the 1st round of the 2019 draft
Nineteen players from the 2019 draft class have already played at least one NHL game. That list includes Canucks' second rounder Nils Hoglander, who currently ranks fourth in his draft class in both games played (56) and points (27) behind the top three selections Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko and Kirby Dach — in that order.
Two years seemed like a long time to wait when Podkolzin was drafted. But considering how the last two years have ended up shaking out, the KHL may have actually been a pretty good path after all. His game did grow during that time, and he got to play a major leadership role as captain of Russia's team at the 2021 World Junior Championship.
It'll be interesting to see if he can find a scoring touch in the NHL, but I think Podkolzin's passioinate, aggressive playing style will be a good addition to the mix in Vancouver this season.
Chase Wouters - C - 21 years old - signed to an AHL contract
With Abbotsford's AHL signings, Johnson put an emphasis on high-character Western Canadian kids with upside. Along the way, he did a nice job of building depth down the middle.
Chase Wouters is a Saskatchewan boy who spent the last three years as captain of the Saskatoon Blades. He has decent size at 6'0" and 193 pounds, and was productive at the junior level, including 22 points in 21 games last season.
Alex Kannok Leipert - 21 years old - signed to an AHL contract
Another former Vancouver Giant, Kannok Leipert served as captain for the last two seasons and was an assistant the year before. With seven goals and 18 points in 22 games last season, he seems to have some solid offensive instincts. And while his Canucks bio lists Regina as his hometown, Elite Prospects
shows that Kannok Leipert was born in Thailand.
Viktor Persson - 19 years old - selected in the seventh round of the 2020 draft
Another new face from Europe, Persson had planned to play for the Kamloops Blazers last season before Covid got in the way. He ended up shuffling through three different teams in Sweden, including four games at the top level with Brynas of the SHL. Listed at 6'2" and 192 pounds, Persson has good size, especially considering he doesn't turn 20 until November.
Jett Woo - 21 years old - selected in the 2ne round of the 2018 draft
Drafted 30 spots after Quinn Hughes in 2018, Jett Woo is one of six 21-year-olds in the mix at rookie camp. With a July birthday, he was one of the younger players in his draft class. He's 10 months younger than Hughes, and has had some injury issues that have slowed his development a bit.
Last season, Woo made the jump to the AHL and stayed healthy, putting up five points and a plus-seven in 28 games with the Utica Comets.
Arturs Silovs - 20 years old - selected in the 6th round of the 2019 draft
Despite his late selection in the 2019 draft, Silovs looks like a legitimate goaltending prospect out of the strong Latvian system. He came to North America as soon as he was drafted, suiting up for the Barrie Colts in the 2019-20 season.
Last season, Silovs was lent to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, but only got into one game. He was called up by the Canucks late in the season, spending some time on the taxi squad and dressing as a backup for two games.