A point of practice frustration brought out a bit of the beast in Bruce Boudreau on Monday.
“Take this a little more serious on the forecheck — do the right s**t,” demanded the Vancouver Canucks coach.
The bark was understandable. With another stiff test against the Vegas Golden Knights awaiting Tuesday at Rogers Arena — a classic four-pointer against a club two points ahead in the wild-card playoff chase — any reminder to play at pace and push should resonate with the roster.
Not that Vasily Podkolzin needs a nudge.
The Russian rookie has earned top-six mix looks as this season has gone along because with everything in his game that has been rewarded with check marks — skating, shooting, forechecking, back checking and extra work in the gym and on the ice — what really stands out is how hard he plays.
Podkolzin plays through the opposition on the forecheck. His remarkable tenacity, strength and smarts have helped offset injuries to Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson, who remain sidelined with arm and wrist support, respectively.
And the manner in which the 20-year-old Podkolzin can blow by the opposition, release a hot shot or a wraparound attempt has everybody’s attention.
He won’t be the difference as the Canucks look to extend a three-game win streak and run the table of nine remaining games to hit the playoff bar of 98 points. But he can be that wild card with an ability to log 16 minutes in any situation.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Vancouver Canucks
7 pm, Roger’s Arena. TV: Sportsnet. Radio: Sportsnet 650.
“He’s probably the guy we talk about the most in the room,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “He’s a real fast skater and he probably has the hardest shot on the team and his work ethic is through the roof.
“He’s always in the gym, always the first guy on the ice in practice. It’s been fun to watch. He’s going to be a heck of a player for a lot of years. And changing the lines just speaks to Pods. He’s very versatile and no matter what line, he doesn’t change his game.”
Boudreau believes young players shouldn’t be kept to measured minutes and brought along methodically in the bottom six. To get the right read and tap into potential, he wanted Podkolzin to go from 12 to 14 to 16 minutes because he could handle it.
The returns are encouraging. He has 19 points (10-9) in 70 games, but also has three game-winning goals and a responsible plus-7 rating. More minutes have made a major difference.
“It helps with his confidence,” reasoned Boudreau. “He’s a guy that, if he makes a mistake, he takes it to heart and it bothers him. I’ve been playing very good and it’s almost like you’re not a rookie anymore. He’s just excited to play because he can get the job done and I don’t think people realize how strong he is.
“When they’re young, the one thing you can do as a coach is program the guys to do what you want them to do. He’s handling the puck and he’ll deke a guy. He wo n’t just dump the puck in or give it away and he is trying some toe curls because he’s feeling good about himself.
The 10th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena was about a scouting consensus for the Canucks and their previous regime.
They could have chosen between those still on the board — WHL center Peyton Krebs, Swedish defensemen Victor Söderström and US National Team Development Program winger Matthew Boldy — but they didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Podkolzin. He was already teasing of pro potential.
By comparison, Krebs has 19 points (7-12) in 40 games this season with Buffalo and Boldy has 29 points (13-16) in 36 games with Minnesota.
With Podkolzin, it’s all about potential. What you see today is a sample of what he could produce in the future as a complete player. Those are harder to find.
“The sky is the limit with him,” said Miller. “He doesn’t seem to struggle with anything and he’s just learning to play over here. He that’s a guy you love to play with any night because he’s easy to play with.
“He’s come a long way with the language and the terminology. He’s very physically gifted. He’s a pro already with the way he carries himself. He’s humble.”
Maybe Chiasson put it best.
“I have a really high standard for Pods. I think he’s got everything to be a great player in this league. He has evolved so much and feels comfortable and that impacts his game from him.”
OVERTIME— Boeser skated before practice Monday but his injury — an arm aggravation sustained April 3 along the sideboards at center ice when Elias Pettersson tried to check Vegas defenseman Ben Hutton and Boeser got caught up in the collision — will keep him out at least Tuesday. Pearson crashed into the boards awkwardly Thursday in Arizona and winced after bracing himself with his wrist after taking a first-period hit. He’s not expected to play this week.
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