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Vancouver Canucks Russians in Town Getting a Head Start

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Vancouver Canucks, Vasily Podkolzin
Vancouver Canucks forward Vasily Podkolzin.

New Vancouver Canucks forwards Ilya Mikheyev and Andrey Kuzmenko have been skating in Vancouver on a regular basis together, or as their agent Dan Milstein put it from Europe in a brief text exchange, “preparing for the season in Vancouver six days per week.” Fellow Russian forward Vasily Podkolzin, not a Milstein client by the way, returned to town in the last 48 hours and will join them.

Mikheyev, age 27, is six years Podkolzin’s senior, so the two didn’t cross paths in international events for Russia because of that age difference.

While Mikheyev, from the southwestern Siberian town of Omsk where he played in the Kontinental Hockey League before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019, was playing in the 2018 World Championships, “Pods” was still working his way through junior hockey. Podkolzin is from Moscow.

Oddly enough, despite wildly different origins, Pods and 26-year-old Kuzmenko did cross paths already in Russia, mainly due to Podkolzin’s hockey playing prowess as a teenager. He joined SKA St. Petersburg as a 17-year-old for three games in 2019 before playing two more seasons with the KHL club, a team that included Kuzmenko.

Kuzmenko, who hails from the distant eastern Russian city of Yakutsk, was the team’s second leading scorer in 2019-’20. Since then he’s flourished, last season finishing 2nd in scoring in the entire KHL.

The Vancouver Canucks won the ‘Kuzmenko sweepstakes’ this summer, beating out a handful of other NHL teams that were finalists for his services, signing the veteran free agent to a one-year entry-level contract.

Mikheyev comes over from a crowded Maple Leafs depth chart just as his career appears to be entering an upswing. A fast, strong skater who can help the Canucks in all man-power situations has the potential to make a major impact, coming off a season of 21 goals and 11 assists in 53 games with Toronto. Injuries, including a sliced wrist, sidetracked his rookie season in the NHL in 2019-’20.

“Pods” is already a beloved figure with veterans in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room, who often tout his skills and upside.

There appeared to be no problem for these players leaving the motherland during war-time to come play hockey in North America. All present and accounted for, the Russian hockey autumn in Vancouver soon begins.

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