It once seemed inconceivable that a player as talented as Russian right winger Vasili Podkolzin could drop to the Flyers when they make the No. 11 overall pick Friday.
Now, it’s not such a long shot.
Podkolzin, who will turn 18 on June 24, was widely regarded early in the season as the No. 3 pick in the draft, behind Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Many scouts now think that defenseman Bowen Byram and centers Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Alex Turcotte, and Trevor Zegras have jumped ahead of him, and others might, too.
“He could definitely be there at 11,” said Ryan Wagman, director of prospect scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “While he was seen as the clear No. 3 earlier in the year, he wasn’t able to display his offensive talents with any regularity at the MHL or the VHL, Russia’s No. 2 men’s league and top junior league.”
Podkolzin’s stock slipped a bit in the World Junior Championship as he had no goals and three assists over seven games. Four months later, he struggled in the U-18 World Championship in April.
“He’s a very good player, and if you ask the kid himself, he’d tell you he didn’t have a great tournament in April, which is important because it’s kind of the last viewings for everybody,” said Brent Flahr, a Flyers assistant general manager, who heads the organization’s amateur scouting. “He may fall a few spots, but I don’t think he’ll fall too far. I wouldn’t think he’d fall to [No. 11], but you never know. Some teams just won’t draft Russians that high.”
Podkolzin has two years left on a contract in Russia’s KHL, meaning he couldn’t opt for an NHL organization until 2021-22 at the earliest. That is a concern for some teams.
If he does fall to No. 11 and the Flyers don’t trade the pick, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound winger would be an intriguing possibility. He has great acceleration, plays with physicality and energy and, through most of his career, has been a good scorer and defensive player.
“He has truly dynamic qualities at both ends,” Wagman said. “The challenge is that he isn’t at his best often enough.”
McKeen’s, coincidentally, has Podkolzin ranked as the 11th-best player in the draft.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a ‘steal’ there, but he is solid value,” Wagman said.
The draft will be held Friday (first round) and Saturday (second through seventh rounds) in Vancouver. The Flyers have nine picks, including two in each of the third, sixth, and seventh rounds.
“It’s a good draft. There’s some quality players in the first half of the first round, and then there’s a bit of a drop-off,” Flahr said. “We’re confident we’re going to get good players through the second and third rounds, and we’ll try to target guys late who have certain traits.”
The draft is loaded with players from the U.S. National Team Development Program, which has eight first-round candidates: centers Hughes, Zegras, and Turcotte; left winger Matthew Boldy; diminutive right winger Cole Caufield; defensemen Cam York and Alex Vlasic; and goalie Spencer Knight.
Hughes is expected to go No. 1 overall to New Jersey, but some of the program’s other players could be available when the Flyers pick 11th.
General manager Chuck Fletcher says the Flyers will listen to offers for their first pick, but he feels the draft selection will net a strong player.