The season is rolling, and my workload is massive. However, I’m here to catch you up on some of the comings and goings of Vancouver Canucks prospects so far in 2019-20.
Vasily Podkolzin – the most recent 10th overall selection had been hanging out in the VHL for about three weeks after living on the SKA bench in the KHL for the first 10 contests of the year. He was looking confident and creative in the second tier – living in the top six and on the team’s top power-play unit. It was resulting in production.
Well, that run has ended for now at least. While the VHL club is on the road, the 18-year-old was recalled to the big club for a homestand. He watched the entirety of the first game from the bench as the 13th forward. His most recent contest on Monday saw him skate three shifts in the middle frame before retaking his spot as a grocery stick.
I’ve been asked what the reasons would be for SKA to develop a young player like this. The answer is layered. The club cares about winning. This is a historically dominant club that eyes a Championship each season. And Podkolzin is a good player. If the team is up or down a few goals, he’ll see more shifts. He also represents a quality replacement if the team suffers a forward injury mid-game.
Additionally, he’ll be expected to play a much larger role with the team next season as they’ll (likely) attempt to lure him in with more opportunity and ice time in an effort to try to sign him to an extension at some point in 2020-21. Personally, I don’t think it will work. Podkolzin has been pretty clear that the NHL is the goal. Vancouver will want to get him over and slide him into the top nine right away.
Finally, SKA isn’t built of monsters. They don’t give two shits about the Canucks or your fantasy club. But they also want to develop players – like virtually every other organization. They’ll continue to swap Podkolzin out for Kirill Marchenko to ensure the teenagers are seeing enough deployment in the VHL to keep up to speed.
At the end of the day, his limited deployment in the KHL is not the end of the world. As long as he plays 30-40 games in the VHL, coupled with all his international duties, the 0-6 mins a night in the KHL for 20-odd games won’t kill him. It’s a two-year wait with no control. Vancouver knew exactly what they were signing up for.
For more on Podkolzin, check out this feature piece I wrote on him for DailyHive Vancouver
Nils Höglander returned last weekend from his five-game suspension for this NASTY elbow.
His ice time has been reduced early on – averaging around 10 minutes per game in three contests. He and Dominik Bokk were a featured duo on the second line for the first month. Now Höglander finds himself on the third line, while Bokk is left on the fourth.
I expect both to see their roles elevated shortly.
However, Höglander decided to do the most impressive lacrosse-style goal I’ve ever seen on Tuesday. While under pressure, he banks the puck to himself off of the back of the net and has the presence of mind to toe-drag while cradling the puck up for the highlight-reel finish.
Looking forward, Höglander will feature prominently on the Swedish World Junior squad this holiday season. He’ll be supported by Samuel Fagemo and the creamy 2020-prospects in Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond. But it’ll be the Tre Kroner’s blueline that will garner a lot of attention. Nils Lundkvist, Adam Boqvist, Victor Soderstrom, Phillip Broberg, and Rasmus Sandin will make up a formidable top five.
Kole Lind is back. After struggling through a difficult first professional campaign, the 21-year-old is off to a hot start with the powerhouse Utica Comets. Through seven games, the former second-round pick has two goals and eight points. He’s found a home on the second line with top-scorer, Reid Boucher and on the team’s second power-play unit.
The expectations were high coming off a monster, final WHL campaign in 2017-18. However, it is not uncommon for a 20-year-old to struggle in the American League. Lind’s development is promising and his future as a potential multi-cat asset remains true.
Read more on Kole Lind’s start here
So far, Mikey DiPietro has not experienced the difficulties of an AHL freshman. The 20-year-old netminder is witnessing immediate success in a platoon role with the Comets. He’s just three games in, but his 0.940 save percentage and 3-0 record is not too shabby.
Thatcher Demko – who is sporting a 0.941 in the NHL, is the heir apparent to the Canucks’ goaltending throne. However, DiPietro’s success will certainly play a role in the Canucks’ upcoming decision on what to do with the expiring Jacob Markstrom contract.
Tyler Madden is off to a big start to his sophomore campaign at Northeastern University. The soon-to-be 20-year-old was one of the biggest draft-plus one risers last season. His play in the NCAA and with the Americans at the WJC put him on the fantasy map. Thus far this season, he has five goals in six games and looks as dangerous as ever.
Expect the 2018 third-rounder to turn pro at the conclusion of this season. Another exciting piece to add to the pipeline.
Carson Focht is off to a blistering start to his fourth WHL campaign. The 19-year-old sits amongst the top-10 producers on a point-per-game average with his nine goals and 14 points in 11 games. The 2019 fifth-rounder is making a serious case to be a member of Team Canada’s World Junior team. He was a standout at the summer selection camp, as well as early on at Canucks camp. He projects as a perfect role player on that team – one capable of playing the middle of the ice or the wing. Offensive or defensive situations. I like his chances.
This is a terrific outcome for an organization that needs to mine more talent outside of the first two rounds.
Olli Juolevi has found himself as something of a forgotten asset in the Canucks’ pipeline. After the sky-high expectations stemming from his fifth overall selection back in 2016, the bottom has mostly fallen out of that mystery box of treats. However, the 21-year-old is back healthy and performing well in 2019-20.
After a knee injury robbed most of his rookie AHL campaign, Juolevi is adjusting to the speed of the North American pro game while anchoring the Comets top pair and top power-play unit. He has four assists in seven contests on the season. But even more impressive is his 17 points in 25 total AHL games. I’d like to see him shoot the puck with more frequency – and that should happen as he continues to gain confidence.
He remains a very real threat to be a productive top-four defender for the Canucks. His time is coming.
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson