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Canucks Rookie Camp Brings Battles and Highlights

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The Vancouver Canucks rookie camp continues today (Saturday) but there is no on-hand media coverage outside of the team’s content. Yesterday, the 90-minute session featured group skating instruction, one-on-one puck battles, and then a cross-ice set of two-on-two games. The skill level of 2019 10th-overall pick Vasili Podkolzin was noticeable compared to his fellow campers.

At one point in the two-on-two Podkolzin made a pretty lead pass to a teammate, effortlessly fired a five-hole goal past Latvian goalie Arturs Silovs, and casually made a perfect kick-pass to himself between the legs, behind the net in tight quarters. This was all on one short shift on tiny ice where he was clearly ahead of his mates skill-wise. The Russian is finally here after spending the last three seasons playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.

“Over the three years I think I’ve matured a lot and I’m ready to be here and start my career in the NHL ,” Podkolzin told the media before the session via an interpreter. “I just want to showcase myself in the best way possible.” He was successful on day one.

Belarusian forward Danila Klimovich, this summer’s second round draft pick, had a positive moment or two. He also spoke through an interpreter before practice, but was more soft-spoken.

“I’m just trying my best, I’m hoping to play with the (NHL) team,” he said. “The team wants me to get better and work on my attacking skills and being aggressive.”

He was then asked about living in an English-speaking city.

“I really love Vancouver, I like going for walks here,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to learn English eventually. It’s a big challenge but I’m a person who accepts the challenges and deals with them.”

Defenceman Jett Woo hit a post and seemed to be noticeably involved in each of his shifts. Yet the highlight of the mini-scrimmage came when Michael DiPietro, playing net at the far end of the cross rink, robbed Woo with a combo Johnny Bower-Gump Worsley failed poke-check, rolling pad stack, resulting in an acrobatic blocker save that had the participants and the assembled media gasping aloud. Besides Podkolzin’s frequent dangles, this was the clear highlight of the hour-and-a-half camp session.

By the way, DiPietro, drafted by the Canucks in 2017 in the 3rd-round and with 40 AHL and two NHL games under his belt, isn’t officially on the rookie camp roster, but with only Silov on that line-up sheet, DiPietro was the choice to fill the second crease. Recently acquired Spencer Martin is another possibility.

Vancouver Canucks Senior Director of Player Development and GM of the Abbotsford Canucks Ryan Johnson, who played 701 NHL games including two seasons with Vancouver, was pleased to have the opportunity to get his charges on the ice after non-existent in-person player development opportunities the last two preseasons due to Covid restrictions. Before the session, Johnson pointed out that zoom calls, phone calls, and videos of players in action simply aren’t enough.

“For me the most important part is acclimating them to the organization, understanding our culture and what we’re all about, and that’s hard to do when you’re not in person,” Johnson said, “so it’s a small group intentionally, not like Penticton (multi-franchise rookie tournaments) where we had to bring in ATO’s (Amateur Try-out Agreements) to fill out a roster. We wanted to get some quality time with these people, we’re gonna have a great ratio of coach to player to really dive into these guys in a short amount of time and get them ready for next week, which will be a big endeavour when jumping into a main camp.”

The Vancouver Canucks main NHL training camp starts Wednesday with off-ice physicals and evaluations, with the on-ice starting Thursday in Abbotsford.

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