Vasily Podkolzin is leading scorer, captains Russia to Karjala Cup win
The Vasily Podkolzin hype train is back on the tracks, hurtling toward his eventual NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks.
That could come as early as next spring, depending on how the NHL schedule ends up shaking out. Podkolzin's commitment to the KHL will end as soon as his team is eliminated from the playoffs. This year, the NHL regular season could still be in progress at that time, giving Podkolzin reason to sign and come over right away, much like a college player would.
Props to the Russian Hockey Federation for making the bold decision to send its U20 squad, captained by Podkolzin, to the Karjala Cup in Helsinki this week. Apparently one of the reasons why they went this route was to give veterans some time to rest during this KHL break, in a season where coronavirus has wreaked havoc with schedules and rosters.
As it turned out, things worked out beautifully. The Russian kids dominated the men's league teams from Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
The Russians beat Finland 6-2 on Thursday to get things started, then followed up with a 2-1 shootout win over the Swedes on Saturday. The Czechs, who were the defending champions from 2019, had beaten both Sweden and Finland before being shut out by Russia on Sunday.
The top five scorers in the tournament were all Russians — led by Podkolzin with a goal and four assists. We haven't seen him dominate a tournament like this since the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, when Russia settled for the bronze medal but Podkolzin tied Alexis Lafreniere as the tournament's leading scorer with 11 points — in just five games. Lafreniere had five goals and six assists while Podkolzin had a whopping eight goals and three assists.
Since Podkolzin was drafted by the Canucks with the 10th overall pick in 2019, fans of the team have wrung their hands as they watched him get limited ice time and opportunity with SKA St. Petersburg — one of the top teams in the KHL year after year. Young players often have to bide their time before they get meaningful opportunities in the Russian system — and young players with their sights set on the NHL, like Podkolzin, have another strike against them.
His performance this week certainly ups the excitement meter for the World Junior Championship, where he's once again expected to captain the Russian team. Igor Larionov was behind the bench this week in Helsinki, and will also do so for World Juniors. Stud netminder Yaroslav Askarov, who was selected 11th overall this year by Nashville, is Podkolzin's teammate on SKA and was the other big star of this tournament. He'll be looking to avenge a sub-par performance at last year's World Juniors when the Russians touch down in Edmonton in December.
Here's the full highlight pack from Sunday's 3-0 win over the Czechs.
On Saturday, Podkolzin became the youngest player ever to score a shootout winner for the Russian men's national team. There has been concern in the past that his game lacked finish. No sign of that here!
And here are the highlights from the opener against Finland.
As for Canucks' 2020 sixth-round draft pick Dmitry Zlodeyev, he was slotted into a fourth-line role and did not hit the scoresheet — but still shares in the experience and the victory. I wonder if the tournament win improves his chances of being named to the World Junior roster as an 18-year-old this winter?
We were also hoping to get a look at 2020 seventh-rounder Viktor Persson this week, in the U20 friendlies between Sweden and Finland. Those games ended up being cancelled, due to some COVID cases.
Congrats to Podkolzin, Zlodeyev, Larionov and the rest of the team. World Juniors should be great this year!