2017 NHL Draft

Prospect Notes: Prince George vs Kelowna

Cougars’ Popugaev a man on an island in blowout loss to Rockets
Steve Kournianos  |  3/1/2017 |  New York  |  

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Photo courtesy of the Prince George Cougars

2017 Draft Prospects

Prince George Cougars

LW Nikita Popugaev (11/20/98, 6’6/202): The final score is not indicative of a collectively poor effort from the Cougars, who thanks to Popugaev could have easily taken multi-goal lead into the decisive second period. Playing on his off wing, the hulking Russian had one of his best all-around performance in what was the fourth time we viewed him. It’s odd that his skating is criticized, because we simply don’t see his forward or lateral mobility and quickness as any sort of hinderance. Popugaev displayed strength on the puck without telegraphing his intentions — Kelowna defenders had a tough time not only figuring out whether he was going to shoot or pass, but were kept honest by his ability from the right wing to cut inside on his backhand. He owns an excellent shot and release, and his massive wingspan allows him to keep the puck well beyond poke-check range. Popugaev remains a habitual over-handler, and there isn’t a 1-on-3 he’s shown to shy away from. Still, he curled and waited for trailers on multiple occasions while breaking for open lanes with his stick on the ice.

Popugaev’s been a bit of a disappointment since his trade from Moose Jaw to Prince George, tallying just four goals in 24 games. Granted, the Cougars are an excellent team with legitimate Memorial Cup aspirations, so it’s not as if they are leaning on him to produce every night. Some have soured on him, which is perfectly fine — the kid has to start burying the puck. Nevertheless, if he continues to produce all-around performances like he did against Kelowna, it will be difficult to keep him outside of the high second round, possibly the lower end of the first. Consider him the 2017 version of Tage Thomson, the big-bodied sniper who last year rarely scored at even strength but still went late in the first round of 2016 to St. Louis.

Kelowna Rockets

RHD Cal Foote (12/13/98, 6’4/212): Watching Kelowna for the second time in just over a week didn’t reveal any major surprises regarding this mammoth two-way defender, who finished the evening with a pair of helpers for his 11th multi-assist effort of the season. Foote continues to impress, anchoring the top pairing at even strength, on the power play and while killing penalties. He’s very quick with the puck in the offensive zone and didn’t make any glaring mistakes — his passes were quick and tape-to-tape. One thing we noticed is the way he makes it a point to stay out of the line of fire, more calculated than reactionary. Foote is the last kid who is averse to blocking shots, but keeping shooting lanes open can be a good thing, especially when you have faith in your goalie’s ability to stop the shots he can see. One play in particular showed Foote fronting his man, then using his backside to push both him and his man away from a shooter to not only eliminate the chance of a tip or rebound, but ensure his goalie had a clear view of the puck.

RW Kole Lind (10/16/98, 6’1/181): Lind had a strong game, picking up a flashy assist on a 2-on-1 goal by Blue Jackets’ prospect Calvin Thurkauf. His 79 points ties him with Brett McLean for the second most points by a Rockets 17-year-old. He finished his checks, played on the power play and held on to the puck in the offensive zone despite being hounded by double and triple teams. In other words, he was his usual, consistent self. Lind takes direct routes to the puck and gets aggressive on the forecheck, while his edge work and ability to quickly change direction remain impressive. His strength, natural puck abilities and vision makes us think he should be developed as a center.