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Avalanche Draft Profile: Nikita Popugaev

AJ Haefele Avatar
June 8, 2017


Get to Know Nikita Popugaev

Date of Birth: 11/20/1998
Place of Birth: Moskva, RUS
Ht: 6’6″ Wt: 203 lbs
Shoots: Right
Position: Right Wing
Team (League): Prince George Cougars (WHL)


What Scouts See

Future Considerations:

Popugaev is a hulking winger with some strong goal-scoring ability. He is a straight line player and it’s a thing of beauty when he finds a lane and gets full extension, his stride generating impressive speed. However, his edgework, transitional footwork and overall balance don’t look so fluid, preventing him from keeping his momentum. He possesses strong offensive IQ and vision with the puck, makes a strong pass but is not a true playmaker, unfortunately. He’s more of a triggerman type of player who gets into his spot, but doesn’t hesitate to move the puck if he is limited for options.

His shot is his best offensive asset. The timing on his one-timer and release off his wrist shot greatly complement his high-end velocity and accuracy. He is light on the puck at times and doesn’t play with a great deal of strength. His commitment to the defensive zone has improved, but he is often clueless about where he should be positioned. The finer motor skills that limit him are in need of refinement. He seems to be comfortable in his own skin as a one-dimensional offensive guy, but he’s not a player who has pushed very hard to better his other deficiencies. There remain, however, concerns with his consistency in that offensive role.

Last Word on Sports:

Popugaev has outstanding size, already measuring in at 6’6″. He combines this with excellent stick handling to be very tough to defend one-on-one. Add in good hockey sense and a strong wrist shot, and Popugaev has many of the attributes that teams will be looking for in a power forward prospect. He is particularly adept on the power play, where the Warriors seemed to run everything through him, but is not getting the same looks on a stronger Prince George team. Popugaev had proven that he has the vision and passing skills to set up others in these situations.

Popugaev is mainly a goal scorer. He is very good at playing down low, hanging out around the opponents crease, where his big size provides an excellent screen. He has the soft hands to pounce on rebounds, work on deflections and tip-ins, and to one time passes into the back of the net. Popugaev also has a very good wrist shot. It is very heavy and he has good accuracy. He also gets it off quickly, with a deceptive release that avoids a quick wind-up.

While Popugaev uses his size to establish position and to protect the puck down low, he is not the type of forward to initiate contact. While he is not afraid to take a hit to make a play, he is not the type of power forward that some expect when seeing his size.

Popugaev’s defensive game is a work in progress. He needs to keep his feet moving in the defensive zone, staying active and covering his man. At times he has a tendency to puck watch and stop staying involved away from the play, leaving his man to find openings to get a scoring chance. He could really stand to bring more intensity in his own end as well


NHL Potential

Unlike many players ranked where he is, nearly the end of the first round and into the second, Popugaev’s NHL potential is easy to spot. He’s either a dominant goal-scoring monster who exemplifies power forward or he’s a complete bust who will be back in Russia before his car insurance gets cheaper in the United States at age 25.

How Prospect Fits in Avalanche Organization

The Avalanche don’t really have big wings capable of scoring goals at impressive rates. Beyond Mikko Rantanen, A.J. Greer, and Cameron Morrison, they may not have many wings in the system destined for NHL ice time at all. Popugaev is the kind of swing-for-the-fences type of prospect Colorado may not be able to take a chance on in this draft class unless they acquire more draft picks. Should they do that, taking a chance on such a boom-or-bust prospect such as Popugaev makes significantly more sense as they protect against the “bust” threat.

Popugaev, should he reach his full potential in Colorado, would be a magnificent addition and be a huge (literally and figuratively) step in the right direction to shoring up some of their goal-scoring problems as well as becoming harder to play against as they look to move away from so many soft forwards, even though he isn’t particularly known for a rugged mentality.


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