At the start of the 2018-19 season, Vasili Podkolzin was projected to be a top three pick in the draft, right below Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Since then, he’s faded closer to late in the top 10 or the middle of the first round on some draft rankings due to concerns about production and skating, but still appears to be a player that could be extremely effective at the NHL level. His hockey sense and compete level are drawing many scouts to the Russian forward.
2019 NHL Draft Profile: Vasili Podkolzin
Position/team: RW/SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, VHL
2018-19 statistics: 2 G, 3 A in 14 GP
Size: 6’1” 196
No. 2 (European skaters) by NHL Central Scouting
No. 4 by Future Considerations
No. 6 by ISS Hockey
No. 12 by Pronman/The Athletic
What’s there to like?
Podkolzin is by far one of the most entertaining players to watch from this year’s draft class. His puck skills and quick wrist shot make him a joy to watch on skill alone, then you add in his bulldog mentality and you have a very exciting hockey player. Despite possessing these elite puck skills which would lead you to believe he’s more of a finesse player than a physical threat, but Podkolzin has the ability to be both. He’s not the biggest player in the world at 6’1” and weighing in at 196 pounds, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him play. The saying of “you can’t teach size” is accurate, but what is also true is that you can teach how to use size.
Podkolzin uses his frame exceptionally well to create space for himself, and use power moves to escape attacking defenders. In his meeting with Sweden in the U18 Men’s World Championship gold medal game, he demonstrated exactly that by powering through the Sweden defense in tight, and finishing that power move with a greasy goal. The unfair stereotype that some Russian players receive as players who avoid contact doesn’t fit the bill for Podkolzin one bit. He’s not afraid to go around you, or through you. He is also more than willing to lay out for a blocked shot on the penalty kill, doing it many times vs. Finland in the same tournament.
This season, he spent time both in the MHL the main junior Russian league, and the VHL just a tier below the KHL. Despite only scoring eight points in 12 games in the MHL, Podkolzin’s five in 14 in the VHL was actually the most among all U18 players in the league. He did play in three games in the KHL this season but did not register a point. He’ll turn 18 finally just two days after the draft concludes, and he’s already producing well in the second tier Russian league. He’s under contract with SKA of the KHL for two more seasons and according to Corey Pronman’s section on him in The Athletic, he will be seeing that contract through.
What’s not to like?
The main knock on Podkolzin is by far his skating. He’s not exactly the most fluid skater but he’s able to mask that with his compete level and hustle. His ability to make power moves on a consistent basis which also masks those issues. I wouldn’t say his skating is exactly bad, just not as effective as it could be. We’ve seen a player like that, albeit with less hype in his draft year, in Oskar Lindblom who turned into a top prospect once his skating was improved upon. If the same can happen for Podkolzin, you have a player who could easily be a steal on draft day if he slips towards the mid-first round.
How would he fit in the Flyers’ system?
He’d easily be one of the top forward prospects in the organization. I think he’d fall just a bit below Morgan Frost but ahead of an Isaac Ratcliffe type prospect. Podkolzin would be more of a down the road kind of prospect for the Flyers, given his contract in the KHL, but if his talent comes through at the KHL level then it could very well be worth the wait.
Could the Flyers actually get him?
It’s starting to look like it. At the beginning of the season it appeared as if there was no way Podkolzin was going to slip out of the top five, but now with risers like Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras and more, he could fall right into the Flyers lap at the 11th overall pick. I think a team could still absolutely take him in the top 10, but if he slips outside then I think Chuck Fletcher should definitely consider drafting him.