Vasily Podkolzin is proof that life moves fast.
Married at age 19 and now a first-time father at 22, the Vancouver Canucks winger has added incentive to crack the opening-night roster next month.
As a professional athlete, provider and support system for wife, Sasha, his NHL career pursuit and home life took on new meaning with the birth of daughter Alisa in July.
“The big highlight of my summer,” a grinning Podkolzin said Tuesday following a team pre-camp skate at the University of B.C. “It’s a different schedule and different feelings, and I try to watch her (Alisa) as often as possible. Yesterday was two months, and she’s already different. It’s a great feeling and extra motivation for me to play better.
“It’s a big step for us. We thought about it for about a year, and when Alisa was born, it was such a great feeling. We understand that we’re living for each other and our daughter and everything is positive right now. I’m skating with a smile.”
The Moscow native is also in the final year of his entry-level contract, and the restricted free agent looked leaner and quicker Tuesday, but also stronger. He trained and skated with NHL players in Vancouver this offseason because his wife couldn’t fly once her pregnancy reached 36 weeks. That allowed him to gain an extra and needed competitive push in the gym and on the ice.
With a glut of wingers heading to training camp in Victoria next week, getting a leg up on the roster competition is vital under the critical eye of head coach Rick Tocchet.
Podkolzin is physically healed from a left wrist injury suffered during a board battle on March 25 in Dallas. It shut down his season and kept him from playing in the AHL playoffs with Abbotsford.
“I wanted to help and I didn’t want to be a bad guy, but I just couldn’t play,” said Podkolzin.
He has also mentally healed from enduring the dreaded sophomore slump. After scoring 14 goals in his rookie season, he couldn’t buy a goal to start last season and had just three assists through 16 games. He was also a healthy healthy scratch on six occasions.
His assignment to the minors on Abbotsford in Nov. 29 was actually a major development. He took ownership of poor play, and embraced guidance from coach Jeremy Colliton and player development masters Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
Podkolzin’s 18 points (7-11) in 28 games were a result of understanding adversity and doing something about it to earn an NHL recall.
“I had two ways to go. Give up, or work,” he recalled. “It was good for me to get some AHL games to remember who you are and start appreciating. It was being stronger on the puck and confident and just focusing on yourself and not other things.
“It’s about what you learn and working on your mentality. This is my third year here and I want to be useful for this team. I’ve been thinking about it all summer and have to stay positive. I’m ready.”
There’s going to be opportunity.
Ilya Mikheyev won’t be at camp and could also miss the preseason as a precaution following February knee surgery. Tanner Pearson will be at camp, but how his surgically repaired hand that endured six procedures responds remains to been seen. The veteran hasn’t playing since suffering the injury Nov. 9 in Montreal.
How Anthony Beauvillier and Nils Hoglander figure into the winger mix — especially if Brock Boeser and Conor Garland patrol the right side on second and third lines — could determine Podkolzin’s roster fate. He could be a fourth-line winger or maybe more. It’s up to him.
At his best, Podkolzin was called a moose and a bull by Tocchet, who was impressed by Podklozin’s potential and willingness to learn.
“When he moves his feet, he’s really a bull,” said Tocchet. “Where he and some of our young guys get in trouble is with reads, but I like to get Podkolzin out there in certain situations.”
That’s good because Podkolzin needs to show he can contribute. He had just seven points (4-3) in 39 NHL games last season, with 41 shots and a 9.8 shooting percentage.
As for Podkolzin’s wrist, it didn’t require a procedure and strengthened to the point where he could shoot without any discomfort by the middle of June.
“I thought it was broken after the hit, but the MRI (magnetic resonance image) showed nothing and everything is good — for shot, stick handling and passing,” said a relieved Podkolzin. “It hurt most when you have this little part of your body injured and you can’t help the team or practice or even hold the stick, just skating hard.”
OVERTIME — The Canucks have set their roster for the Young Stars tournament in Penticton that runs Friday through Monday. Returning are Arshdeep Bains, Danila Klimovich, Marc Gatcomb, Kirill Kudryavtsev, Chad Nychuk, Quinn Schmiemann and Ty Young. Newcomers include Aidan McDonough, Josh Bloom, Aatu Raty, Max Sasson, Hunter Brzustewicz, Akito Hirose, Filip Johansson and Cole McWard. The Canucks face the Flames on Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Jets on Sunday at 2 p.m. and the Oilers on Monday at 1:30 p.m.
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