First-round draft pick in 2019 out of Russia taking part in the NHL team’s prospects mini-camp at Rogers Arena this weekend

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From the first moment Vasily Podkolzin faced the Vancouver media — even with Zoom as an intermediary — his confidence was clear.

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No, he’s not worried about cultural adjustment.

Yes, he and his wife are getting an English tutor.

Yes, he understands English well but still wants to get better.

“For interviews,” he joked in English.

Picked 10th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, Podkolzin played two seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg. He played mostly depth minutes, though his role grew bigger over the course of the second half of last season.

There had been some pressure to stay, he admitted.

“I’ve been in a couple unpleasant situations in the KHL, but overall I’m very grateful for my experience over the two years and I’m happy to be here,” he said.

For the big Russian’s first full interview in Vancouver since his 2019 drafting, held ahead of the Canucks prospects mini-camp this weekend at Rogers Arena, he answered his questions in Russian, with the help of translator Alexandra Makarevsky.

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“It’s normal,” he said in Russian of having to adjust to everything being in his new language. “I’m trying to speak English with everyone around me; I’m not going to rush into it. Just easing myself into the language. I’m doing fine.

“I understand everything everyone says, and I’m trying to speak with everyone in English. I’ll try and work a little more on my English for these interviews so I can speak normal.”

Top Canucks Russian prospect Vasily Podkolzin (left) and Danila Klimovich at Canucks prospects mini-camp at Rogers Arena on Friday. Podkolzin has spent some time off ice with fellow draftee Klimovich, a second-round pick (41st overall) this summer and native of Belarus who also speaks Russian.
Top Canucks Russian prospect Vasily Podkolzin (left) and Danila Klimovich at Canucks prospects mini-camp at Rogers Arena on Friday. Podkolzin has spent some time off ice with fellow draftee Klimovich, a second-round pick (41st overall) this summer and native of Belarus who also speaks Russian. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Podkolzin deployed the Russian word for “normal” a lot in his answers, a word which can also mean “good,” explained Pavel Maliouguine, who provided further translation for Postmedia. The Vancouver-based Maliouguine writes about the Los Angeles Kings for the hockey blog hockeyroyalty.com.

“He means that it’s good or great. It’s just something Russian hockey players say a lot. It’s like the Russian version of ‘get pucks deep’ or ‘uhhh,’ ” he explained.

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“It’s a change (moving) from Russia. Everything is different. The city, the culture, the politics, the language, the food,” he said. “(Vasily) has a tutor, which is good. If he’s got a tutor he’ll be fine. The culture can be easily transitioned. He’ll get used to it like a couple months in.”

Podkolzin and his wife Sasha Kotyatkina arrived in Vancouver earlier this month from Russia and have been exploring the city.

“We’ve been everywhere and downtown stood out for me. I’ve been everywhere except Stanley Park. There’s still lots of time, so I’ll get to some places eventually,” he said.

Podkolzin has also spent time with 2021 Canucks draftee Danila Klimovich — from Belarus, he also speaks Russian — and Swedish winger Nils Höglander, who was drafted (40th overall) the same year as him.

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“We were not only drafted together, but we also had some communication during the world juniors. We’ve kept in touch with each other this entire time and we also try to talk to each other in English,” said Podkolzin. “We hang out a lot now that we’re both here. We’ve got a normal relationship.”

Vancouver Canucks management including Henrik Sedin (far left), Daniel Sedin (bottom), scout Thomas Gradin (centre), general manager Jim Benning (second from right) and assistant GM John Weisbrod (far right) take in the first on-ice day of the NHL club’s prospects mini-camp at Rogers Arena on Friday.
Vancouver Canucks management including Henrik Sedin (far left), Daniel Sedin (bottom), scout Thomas Gradin (centre), general manager Jim Benning (second from right) and assistant GM John Weisbrod (far right) take in the first on-ice day of the NHL club’s prospects mini-camp at Rogers Arena on Friday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Brisk opening to rookie camp

Podkolzin was joined on ice by nine young Canucks skaters — it was meant to be 10 others, but Carson Focht only appeared briefly, for unknown reasons, plus goalies Arturs Silovs and Mike DiPietro.

DiPietro, who will be the No. 1 goalie in Abbotsford this season with the new American Hockey League Canucks, wasn’t officially listed on the NHL Canucks’ rookie camp roster, but needing two netminders meant he was handed the opportunity for extra ice time, something he famously never says no to.

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Unlike most teams in the NHL, the Canucks are once again not organizing games for the prospects to play; they first did so in 2019. In previous years, they had hosted the Young Stars Classic in Penticton.

Ryan Johnson, the Canucks’ senior director of player development and general manager of the Abbotsford Canucks, said he liked giving the young players some focused time with coaches heading into training camp, though there was still value in playing games.

All indications are that the Canucks plan to restart the Young Stars tournament next season.

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“Don’t get me wrong, Penticton is an outstanding format and it’s a great tournament,” said Johnson. “I’ve found at times some of our young players put so much time and energy into that tournament, obviously because they want to make a good first impression or really cement themselves or where they fit in, heading into a main camp; but at times, we’ve had four or five players come out of there battered and bruised because they’re laying it all on the line.

“When we did a skills and skating session, it was a good opportunity to get guys up to speed. We talked about detail work that maybe you didn’t have an opportunity to kind of focus on in a Penticton environment, and we felt our players, our young players were much more prepared and ready physically for main camp.

“I think these guys will benefit from it. This isn’t going to be an easy four days on the ice, I can tell you that, but it’s going to be very informative. I think they’ll be in a good place, heading into next week.”

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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