Russian prospect Nikita Popugaev compares his style of play to countryman Evgeni Malkin. That may be reaching high — we all saw the havoc the Pittsburgh Penguins forward wreaked during the Stanley Cup Playoffs — but it’s worth taking note of.
There are some elements to Popugaev’s game that observers are high on.
Here’s a closer look at the WHL standout.
Age on June 23: 18
From: Moscow, Russia
Current Team: Prince George Cougars
Weight: 217 pounds
NHL Central Scouting Rank (North America): 28
Jeff Marek’s Take: “There’s no denying the talent, but is the will there every night? A big, strong winger who can dominate games physically.”
Popugaev is among the taller draft-eligible prospects in this year’s crop, standing at a healthy 6-foot-6, 217 pounds. Onlookers are also impressed with his ability to guard the puck and Popugaev’s fluidity, which is not easy to exude given his size.
He’s got an NHL-calibre shot, too, and when Prince George acquired him from the Moose Jaw Warriors in January, Cougars general manager Todd Harkins referred to him as a “offensive game-changer.”
Leaving home for hockey
The Russian native is committed to making it to the NHL and uprooted his life to ensure he has the best possible chance to do so.
After a busy 2014-15 season in which he played in a Russian junior league (MHL) and represented his country in two international tournaments, Popugaev made the move to Canada.
“I wanted to play hockey in Canada because here the hockey is better for your draft position,” he told NHL.com.
The move has worked, with NHL Central Scouting ranking him inside the top 30 list of North American skaters entering the draft.
Popugaev totalled 29 goals and 69 points in 71 games split between the Warriors and Cougars this past season. He was also a plus-12 and contributed 23 power-play points.
It’s a marked improvement from his first season in the Dub, when he scored 47 points in 70 games to go along with a minus-7 rating.