Canucks prospect Vasily Podkolzin carried SKA St. Petersburg to two do-or-die wins in the KHL playoffs this past week

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It’s the latest edition of the weekly tracker, where we tally up the efforts of the Vancouver Canucks’ highest-profile prospects:

Vasily Podkolzin

Leaders aren’t born, they are made.

The Hockey Gods, however, may have made an exception with the Canucks’ top prospect.

Vasily Podkolzin, at just 19 years old, willed SKA St. Petersburg to two crucial wins in their conference final series against archrival CSKA Moscow this past week, notching three points on Thursday, scoring a triple-overtime winner on Saturday and tying a KHL playoff record in the process.

All this after getting stapled to the bench for most of Tuesday’s Game 3, a 5-2 loss that put his team in a 3-0 series hole.

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Podkolzin skated on the third line in Game 4 alongside former Canuck Linden Vey and Malte Stromwall, and the trio combined for all three of SKA’s goals in a 3-1 victory that kept their Gagarin Cup hopes alive.

The 6-foot-1, 204-pound power forward was bullish from the get-go, getting a shot on net early in the first period and retrieving the rebound to start the sequence which resulted in Vey’s opening goal.

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Then in the second period, Podkolzin found another former Canuck, Oscar Fantenberg, at the blue-line, whose point shot was tipped in by Stromwall.

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Podkolzin nearly scored later in period, but his high shot hit the goalie’s shoulder and then the crossbar, before the puck was covered with Podkolzin lurking for a rebound.

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Podkolzin, who doesn’t shy away from contact, later took a big hit along the boards, and dropped to the ice. He gutted out the rest of his shift, defending in his own zone despite being in obvious pain.

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Podkolzin would be back for more, though, icing the game with an empty-net goal to finish the night with three points, a plus-3 rating and three shots on net in 12:32 of ice time.

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“We were a united team today. We didn’t have any pressure, so maybe that’s why we played in a more attacking manner,” Podkolzin said post game. “However, we were careful in defence too. Thank God that we won.”

When asked if the SKA coaching staff tried to motivate the team before the game, Podkolzin replied: “We’re all adults, we don’t need people to give us motivation in such a situation. We found more emotions within ourselves.”

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The 2019 first rounder didn’t let up in Saturday’s Game 5, perhaps the most impressive game of his young career.

With his team down 1-0 in the second period, Podkolzin did what his teammates couldn’t do in Games 1 and 2 — score an away goal.

The Moscow native did it his way, taking the puck into the zone alone, wrapping it into the goaltender’s pad before jamming the rebound home.

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Podkolzin had other positive moments in the do-or-die contest, but the brightest came in the 113th minute.

On a rush up the ice, the teenager found some open space at the right faceoff circle, called for the pass and did not miss with a one-timer, beating the goalie past his outstretched glove.

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The goal, his sixth of the playoffs, was also his 11th point — tying Vitali Kravtsov’s 2018 mark for a U20 player in a KHL post-season.

Podkolzin finished the game with two goals, four shots on net, one blocked shot and one hit in 24:42 of ice time.

Talk about going from persecuted to saviour in one short week.

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“It was a very tough match, there were six periods and both teams lost a lot of strength,” Podkolzin said post game. “We won because we took advantage of our opportunities to score. Everyone did a fantastic job, we fought hard and blocked lots of shots. Our goalkeeper was excellent too. We move on.”

When asked if it was the best game he’s ever played, Podkolzin agreed.

“Yes, I feel like this is the case. However, we have to win the next match, and I want my best performances to be before me.”

SKA head coach Valeri Bragin, who has made some questionable deployment decisions regarding the youngster, said: “I’m very glad that Podkolzin plays productively. They put his psychological condition in order after the World Cup.”

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Podkolzin’s playoff ascension is making headlines in Russia, with former KHL GM Leonid Weisfeld commenting on his ability to lead when it matters most.

“Vasily showed that he is ready for the role of a leader even for a team like SKA,” Weisfeld told championat.com. “It is clear that he may leave for the NHL over time, we are talking about what is happening here and now. And now Podkolzin at the age of 19 decides the fate of his team’s matches. This is very encouraging.”

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SKA will try to replicate what it did in 2015 in coming back from a 3-0 deficit to CSKA to win the series 4-3. Game 6 is on Monday.

Podkolzin has six goals, five assists and a plus-5 rating in 15 playoff games. His 11 points leads his team and is fourth-best leaguewide.

*This section will be updated on Monday following the conclusion of Game 6.


Utica Comets forward Jonah Gadjovich (left) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Laval Rocket in 2019.
Utica Comets forward Jonah Gadjovich (left) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Laval Rocket in 2019. Photo by Lindsay Mogle/Utica Comets /PNG

Utica Comets

After missing nearly a month due to COVID-19 concerns, the Comets re-entered the AHL orbit this past weekend and dropped back-to-back contests.

In Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Rochester Americans, it was 2017 second-rounder Jonah Gadjovich who stood out, with the big forward standing in his usual spot at the top of the crease and scoring his ninth goal of the season on a second-period power play.

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Gadjovich, an often immovable 6-foot-2, 209-pound left-shot winger, also put his improved skating stride to the test, lining up an Americans forward in the defensive zone and obliterating him along the boards.

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The 22-year-old finished the game with a goal, an assist, four shots on net and an even rating.

The next night, it was defenceman Jack Rathbone (2017. Rd. 4) who made an impact, scoring a power play goal from the point and putting four shots on net in a 5-1 loss in Syracuse.

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It was a tough spot for the Comets to be in — playing in a back-to-back situation after taking a month off — but it was made even tougher with the AHL debut of St. Louis goaltending prospect Joel Hofer (2018, Rd. 4), who gave up a goal 17 seconds into the game and didn’t look settled throughout.

Rathbone’s goal was his second in six AHL games, giving him six points overall (2G, 4A). The 21-year-old had three shots on net and an even rating in Friday’s loss.

Rathbone’s blue-line partner, Jett Woo (2018, Rd. 2), also had a strong weekend, putting three shots on net on Friday and making some exceptional plays on Saturday. Woo, 20, stopped a two-on-one with a good stick and later sent an Americans forward to the dressing room with a huge, clean hit.

Woo has a plus-4 rating in 11 games this season. Gadjovich, meanwhile, has nine goals, two assists and a plus-2 rating in 11 games.

The Comets are 6-4-0-2 and are in fourth place in the North Division.


2020 Vancouver Canucks draft pick Joni Jurmo in action for JYP of the Finnish Liiga.
2020 Vancouver Canucks draft pick Joni Jurmo in action for JYP of the Finnish Liiga. Photo by Jiri Halttunen/JYP team photogra /jpg

Joni Jurmo

He finally found his happy place, before it all came crashing down.

Jurmo’s season is over, as his hometown Kiekko-Espoo side dropped consecutive overtime decisions this past week in a best-of-three quarterfinal series in the second-tier Finnish Mestis League.

Jurmo, the Canucks’ third round pick in the 2020 draft, was a difference-maker for his side, logging big minutes from the back end while contributing on the scoreboard.

The 6-foot-4, 198-pound left-shot blueliner had an assist and skated for 22:38 in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Hermes. The assist came as Jurmo went on the attack, with the big, smooth-skating D-man circling the zone before firing a shot on net, which was tipped-in at the top of the crease.

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Jurmo, 18, scored a critical game-tying goal late in Thursday’s Game 2, taking a pass at centre ice, backing off the defenders with his speed and rifling a long wrist shot past the goaltender.

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it was all for naught, though, as Hermes sent the top-ranked team packing with the 2-1 overtime winner to bag the best-of-three series 2-0.

Jurmo finished the game with a goal, a gaudy seven shots on net and an even rating in 21:00 minutes of ice time.

Jurmo’s midseason loan from the top-tier Liiga to the Mestis league turned out to be a boon to his development, with the smooth-skating and talented defenceman able to escape a free-falling JYP side, which lost 41 of 58 games and was a mess defensively, giving up the most goals in the league.

Jurmo, who will most likely be back with JYP next season, had three goals, five assists and a plus-3 rating in 10 Mestis league games this season.


Dmitri Zlodeyev was a sixth-round draft pick, 175th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Dmitri Zlodeyev was a sixth-round draft pick, 175th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Photo by Russian Ice Hockey Federation /PNG

Dmitri Zlodeyev

Zlodeyev is on to the MHL final after his top-ranked Dynamo Moscow side swept Tolpar 3-0 in the Russian junior league’s best-of-five semifinal.

The decisive game came on Wednesday, a 3-2 overtime win. Zlodeyev, a two-way centre taken in the sixth-round of the 2020 draft, was on the ice for the series winner, retrieving the puck in the corner of the offensive zone and starting the scoring sequence.

The 19-year-old finished the game with two shots on goal and a plus-1 rating.

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Dynamo next face second-ranked Loko in the best-of-five championship final, which begins on Thursday.

Zlodeyev has three assists and a plus-4 rating in six MHL playoff games so far.


Canucks prospect Viktor Persson playing for Brynas U20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season.
Canucks prospect Viktor Persson playing for Brynas U20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season. Photo by Nathalie Andersson /jpg

Viktor Persson

He’s still smiling, despite going through the toughest season of his young career.

Persson, the Canucks’ final pick of the 2020 draft (Rd. 7, 181st overall) joined the I Only Touch Greatness podcast  last week to talk about a “weird season” affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as how his game is coming along.

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The 19-year-old right-shot defenceman was supposed come to North America and play for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers earlier this season, but COVID-19 scuttled those plans. Instead, he excelled in 16 games in the Swedish Junior League (5G, 4A, plus-12) before getting loaned to Stromsbro IF of the Swedish third division (11GP, 1G, 5A, plus-4) before finally getting called up to top-tier Brynas IF, who are locked in a SHL relegation series with HV71.

Persson is practising with the team, for the most part, having only played in four games and skating for a shift or two in each.

“This season has been really challenging,” Persson said. “It’s the hardest I’ve really had.”

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The 6-foot-2, 192-pound defenceman also narrowly missed out on playing for Team Sweden at the World Junior tournament, after being one of the last cuts from camp. Still, he said it was a positive experience.

“It was really cool. I’d never played in any Sweden games but, I think just to be mentioned in the (conversation) … it’s an honour. I didn’t expect it when the season started.”

Persson describes himself as “a big guy (who) likes to play physical” while getting involved offensively.

“Sometimes a nice shot, sometimes really bad too,” he said with a laugh.

He skates well for a defenceman his size and like Jurmo, has a lot of raw playmaking talent that needs to be developed further. He also has good instincts defensively.

Persson doesn’t know whether he’ll come to North America — for the first time ever — next season or if he’ll be playing for Brynas, either in the SHL or the second-tier Allsvenskan.

mraptis@postmedia.com

twitter.com/mike_raptis

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