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Podkolzin's improvement

...Canucks draft pick continues perfecting his game

by Julie Robenhymer @JulieRobenhymer / Freelance writer

After losing in the gold medal game at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, Vasili Podkolzin had a hard time looking at the positives, and how representing Team Russia at this year's event helped his long-term development. 

"It's not for me to say what was good about my game. I'll let the experts weigh in on that," the 6-foot-1, 190 pound power forward said through a translator. "Our team played really well. All of us. But in the end, we didn't get the win. That's the most important part because time will pass and nobody will recall who played well and who didn't. They remember who won and who lost. We lost."

Tweet from @TSN_Sports: What a goal from @Canucks��� prospect Vasily Podkolzin to tie the game for Russia 😱😱 #WorldJuniors

His passion for team success and commitment to do whatever it takes to be a contributing factor to his team is why he's been part of Team Russia for so many international competitions in his young career.

At 18, Podkolzin already has quite the resume - the U17 World Hockey Challenge, two U18 World Championship, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the World Junior A Challenge, and now two world junior championships.

"His number one asset is a big heart," stated Igor Larionov, NHL and international hockey legend and assistant coach for Team Russia at this year's WJC. "You can have all the skill in the world - and he has a lot of it - but without his passion and commitment to his teammates, he's not the same player.

"He has an eagerness to win and he hates to lose," he continued. "And he's so determined every night to be consistent and help the team win. I told him he reminds me of Mark Messier. He fights for the win every single night and he's not afraid to go one-on-one against an opponent. He's a tremendous leader by example and he's only 18."

Beyond his passion for success, Podkolzin, who was selected by the Vancouver Canucks 10th overall at the NHL Draft this past June, brings a style of play that can't be ignored on the ice and isn't easily found in a player with his level of skill. He plays a punishing physical game that creates time a space for his linemates and has the skill and the hockey IQ to get them the puck and generate offensive opportunities from it.

Video: DRAFT | Vasily Podkolzin Behind-the-Scenes

"We don't look for a particular player type that high in the draft. We always choose the player that we think will be the best NHL player regardless of their style, but, looking back on it, it's been a fortunate coincidence that the style he plays is something we really need," said John Weisbrod, Canucks assistant general manager.

"We've got Pettersson and Boeser and Hughes and they're all good young players with a lot of flash and dash and Vasili is a genuine power forward," he continued. "He's a guy that's big and strong and goes to the net all the time and wins puck battles. He can protect it under pressure and he's smart defensively and stays on the right side of the puck. So obviously in trying to build a balanced team, what he brings as a player and what he has the potential to become is something we need on our team."

During the regular season, Podkolzin splits his time in the KHL and VHL (the minor league in Russia) both with St Petersburg. And, even played two games with the MHL club - the junior league in Russia. There hasn't been a lot of opportunity to practice or develop chemistry with consistent linemates, which is one of the big reasons why Weisbrod was happy for him to have this opportunity to play for Russia, both at the world junior championship and the Canada-Russia super series in November.

"I think it was healthy for him and his development to be in an environment where he was playing with the same group of guys for an extended period of time and was a go-to guy and relied upon to play big minutes going up against good lines and on the power play," the AGM explained. "So it was a good opportunity for him to be one of the key guys and have to deliver and I felt like he did. I think he had a really good tournament."

Podkolzin finished the tournament with a goal and four assists in seven games and averaged 19 minutes a game on his way to the silver medal. As far as what makes him so effective on the ice, Weisbrod was quick to answer.

Video: Highlights of Canucks Draft Pick Vasily Podkolzin

"He's a very powerful skater and really strong on his feet. It's not easy to knock him off the puck or off his path," he said. "His physicality and ability to win puck battles and retain pucks when he's under pressure and his willingness and desire to go to the net, whether it's standing in front on the power play or driving the net on the rush.

"We think he's capable of being a top six forward and can play alongside good players and can make plays, but also do the dirty work in grinding and defending and winning puck battles and getting in on the forecheck and using his physical size and strength," Weisbrod continued. "That's the player we project him to be, but that will be a book for him to write. I think it will be a good one.

Before he has the chance to start writing that book, Podkolzin has another season and a half left on his KHL contract with St Petersburg and, if you ask him, he will spend that time working on every aspect of his game because "I am not good enough and, when I think I am, I will continue to put in the hard work to be great."

After Canada came from behind in the third period to defeat Russia 4-3 in the gold medal game, Podkolzin said it was an honor to represent his home country and was very proud to wear the jersey.

"Every player on this team is very good at something and being able to watch them practice and play helps me see what they do well and try to implement it into my game on the ice," he said. "I take great pride in being here because a lot of players would like to be here and have a spot on this team. Some players only have one chance to play for a medal. I have been lucky enough to play for two."

With last year's bronze medal and this year's silver, Podkolzin, who has one more year left of eligibility, will likely have the opportunity to complete his IIHF WJC medal collection at next year's tournament in Alberta.

"I'm not ready to think about that after such a tough loss," he paused, fighting his emotions and trying to compose himself as a wave of Canadian fans passed by the interview area loudly celebrating the win.

"That is a nice thought though…Gold is always our goal and I hope we have the chance to win it next year."

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