The inside scoop on Vasily Podkolzin from KHL reporter Gillian Kemmerer
Today, I have some info on Vasily Podkolzin and the KHL, courtesy of Gillian Kemmerer — a KHL reporter who is usually boots-on-the-ground in Russia and China but, this season, is covering the league remotely from her home in New Jersey thanks to Covid.
First — let me direct you to this general story I posted this morning for Forbes, which covers the way Covid has impacted the current KHL season and how the roster tumult has led to unprecedented opportunity for young players:
But even with all the kids who are being called up to fill roster spots that have opened up due to Covid-19, Podkolzin continues to see his role limited on SKA St. Petersburg — despite impressing on the international stage with five points in three games at the Karjala Cup a couple of weeks ago.
Last season, Podkolzin finished with 2-6-8 in 30 KHL games with SKA. This year, in 21 games, he's at 2-4-6 so far, averaging 12:04 of ice time per game — even through a stretch earlier in the season where the number of U20 players in the SKA lineup hit double digits as they dealt with their Covid outbreak.
On Wednesday, Podkolzin was back on the fourth line for SKA's game against Traktor Chelyabinsk.
"With SKA he's moved around a lot, yes," Kemmerer told me. "I think it'll be interesting to see now, SKA has sort of come back to a place where it has its full roster intact, where he's going to wind up.
"I've had coaches within that organization say, 'We effectively have six lines worth of talent and inevitably, we're going to have players that are left off of it.'
"It's hard. I don't really know exactly what has driven some of his movement on and off the lineup in recent memory, but I think that he's demonstrated that he's incredibly capable.
"I think the World Juniors will be an interesting showcase for him because he's going to be entrusted with a lot of responsibilities. He certainly was in Karjala.
"SKA is a team that is used to producing prospects and it's good at developing them," she continued. "With SKA, one of the things that characterizes them is that they adjust quite well to North America. They play on North American-sized ice at home. They have a rather North American-minded management.
"I think that that's one thing that really bodes in his favour, because I think a lot of Russian kids come over to North America without proper expectations, that maybe lack an understanding of what the environment will look like.
"But when you look at a kid like Igor Shesterkin, for example, he was managed very carefully. He developed very carefully in their system, they brought him over and I think he was probably NHL-ready from Day 1. As soon as they took him out of the AHL, he was contending for that starting goaltender job (with the Rangers), and then eventually won it.
"So I think Podkolzin has that going for him, in the sense that SKA has a tradition of adequately preparing players to move to the NHL."
She pronounces his name Podkol-ZEEN, by the way. Like 'magazine.'
If you missed this story from last week, Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun did a great interview with Igor Larionov about the U20 team, and how he wants the group to be offensively aggressive.
With their KHL experience, the Russian U20 group, captained by Podkolzin, showed that they have what it takes to compete with men by winning the Karjala Cup. That high-level experience could also help them at World Juniors, when they'll be back playing against their peer group.
"We're talking about them like they're kids, but in a professional context, several of these 'kids' get healthy minutes in the KHL," Kemmerer said. "So we're looking at guys that, while they're young, are used to competing with and against men.
"Of course it's different when you have one youngster on a line of veterans versus having an Under-20 squad and a tournament. But that being said, this is a team that will have seen that level of competition. And there's a great deal of hunger and fight with them.
"In Russia, playing for that national team really is sacred. You don't humiliate that jersey. You don't humiliate that flag or that anthem. So they knew going in (to the Karjala Cup) that the deck was stacked against them but they still came up and they knew that they were going to have to give a good showing.
"I don't know that we could have predicted that they would have swept the tournament — and, of course, their clash with Sweden in the middle was close and went to a shootout. But overall, I thought their performance was really indicative of the level of professionalism that's required of them on a night-by-night basis in the KHL. It really wasn't that much of a departure from what they're playing in, in regular circumstances."
Podkolzin gets some credit for that impressive level of mental preparedness and fortitude.
"If you look at the Karjala Cup — if you were to ask Igor Larionov what he thought about the players and how they did, I know he felt Podkolzin was a wonderful leader for that team," Kemmerer said. "I think that he demonstrated that as well.
"He was certainly a playmaker and I felt his experience on the international level, while of course lower than the senior teams he played against, it was probably quite a bit more than what some of his teammates would have had. And I think he demonstrated that leadership potential and he demonstrated some of that skill that's always categorized him."