Canucks’ Podkolzin proves he’s capable of playing a bigger role in second season

VANCOUVER — From the end of one season to the start of the next, a hockey team’s « improvement » is measured almost entirely by the addition of new players. The Vancouver Canucks signed top-nine forwards Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko, along with strong fourth lines Curtis Lazar and Dakota Joshua.

But on Sunday, when Mikheyev was injured just 24 minutes into the preseason of his four-year, $19 million contract with the Canucks, second-year winger Vasily Podkolzin reminded everyone that improving internal could be as important as the external additions.

The 21-year-old Russian led the Canucks in their 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena with one goal, five hits, four shots on goal and 20:40 of ice time – more than anything. which he recorded for 79 years. games of his up and down rookie season.

Podkolzin played on a line with Bo Horvat and Conor Garland, who was also excellent, and has looked since training camp opened Thursday in Whistler, B.C., as if he was capable of playing a bigger role and to score more goals this season than the 14 he has scored. In first year.

« A lot more confidence, that’s the biggest thing, » Podkolzin told Sportsnet in Whistler. “I have some great linemates right now. I know these players, Garly and Bo, so it’s going to be easier for me.

Podkolzin appears to be continuing the push he had late last season when he scored four times in three games in April to help keep the Canucks’ playoff hopes alive. The 2019 first-round pick was knocked out healthy by coach Bruce Boudreau two months earlier amid a 16-game drought that saw him often play single-digit minutes on the fourth line.

« It’s not an easy season, » Podkolzin said. « But that’s what I need for (my) first season. I worked very hard this summer to be ready for (the) second season. More skating, stronger shots, playing harder on the wall. Just play smarter.”

During camp and a pre-season game, he ticks all those boxes.


The advantage of splitting your team and playing two exhibition games simultaneously, like the Canucks and Flames did, is that in one night you get two games closer to the end of the pre- NHL season. A younger and much less loaded Canucks team in the NHL lost 4-0 Sunday night in Calgary. Vancouver is therefore 0-2.

Pre-season or not, it was a little disappointing that the Canucks didn’t muster a bit more at home against a much less accomplished Flames roster, who outscored Vancouver 45-28 and led 2-0 on goal. in the third period from Podkolzin and Garland, who tied the game at 18:29 by scoring on his own rebound after a brilliant cross pass from Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson, at least, seemed fully engaged, skating with determination and continuing his superior Whistler game.



It’s impossible not to notice how hard Boudreau is trying to establish continuity after the Canucks finished last season 32-15-10 following a coaching change in December. He’s barely changed NHL players since opening camp with lines and defensive pairings he hoped, ideally, could hold until the regular season opener on Oct. 12 in Edmonton. .

The Canucks stumbled out of the starting gate last season, going 6-14-2 in the first quarter of the season under former coach Travis Green after stars Pettersson and Quinn Hughes missed the first half of the season. pre-season pending new contracts. As soon as they arrived, front-line winger Brock Boeser was injured.

To further sharpen their focus and preparation for a strong start next month, the Canucks are expected to make cuts Monday and split the remaining players into NHL and minor league groups that will train separately.

Vancouver’s next preseason game is Thursday at home against the Seattle Kraken.


Boudreau gave no details after the game about the injury to Mikheyev, who was injured early in the second period when he turned in check and was crushed by Flames defenseman Nicolas Meloche.

The Canucks spent most of their summer free agent budget signing the fast, two-way winger from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

An excellent penalty taker and forechecker, Mikheyev scored 21 goals in 53 games last season but struggled with significant injuries in two of his three years in Toronto.

In the short term, his absence could provide an opportunity for winger Nils Hoglander – the third-year dynamo who had a bad sophomore season and skated at Whistler on the Canucks’ fifth line. Boudreau said Friday that Hoglander, playing fast and tenacious, was the best skater in camp. Hoglander was part of the Calgary contingent on Sunday.


The Canucks’ other free agent acquisition, Kuzmenko, didn’t score in Sunday’s home game on his line with Pettersson, but got into dangerous shooting positions on several occasions and demonstrated his lightning release . He had 18:43 of ice time, including 7:42 on the 0-7 power play, and finished with three shots and a second assist on Garland’s goal. He missed the puck and a half-open net on a hard-mouth pass from Pettersson.

Kuzmenko looked exhausted after several of his practice reps at Whistler, but the Canucks aren’t concerned about the stocky winger’s fitness. A team official said Kuzmenko’s fitness test results were « good, » but the NHL is a higher standard than the 26-year-old was used to in the KHL.


Defenseman Jack Rathbone, who was trying to re-secure a spot in the NHL in his third professional season, skated well and clocked up his 25:45 of ice time. He threw nine shots, but only three on target, and also managed three blocks. Minor league center Sheldon Dries also stood out, and goaltenders Spencer Martin and third-period reliever Arturs Silovs were solid.

Defenseman Danny DeKeyser was pretty quiet but didn’t seem to hurt his chances of qualifying for the Canucks on a pro tryout. But winger William Lockwood, who must provide energy and physicality if he wants to stay with the NHL team, was largely invisible. Minor league agitator Vincent Arseneau stood out but did more harm than help his team by picking up three minor penalties.


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