Vancouver Canucks 2017 NHL Draft Profile: RW Nikita Popugaev

Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Brock Boeser walks to the stage after being selected as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Brock Boeser walks to the stage after being selected as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks are preparing for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft — and so are we.

Once again the Vancouver Canucks failed to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs. So, instead of competing for the Stanley Cup, Canucks GM Jim Benning and his staff will use the upcoming months to prepare next season’s roster. Now that the organisation is officially in a ‘transition period’, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will be of utmost importance.

A four-game winning streak to start the 2016-17 season gave fans hope for the playoffs. But — blame the coach, the roster, injuries or anything else — unfortunately, the team was unable to play competitively for an entire season. With that, they are guaranteed another high draft pick this year.

Here at The Canuck Way, we will do our best to prepare you for the upcoming draft by profiling as many eligible players as we possibly can. Keep in mind that we are not saying these are players the Canucks are targeting. Instead, these are players that we think the Canucks could or should have interest in.

This year’s draft seems wide-open, with no real consensus in any of the seven rounds. So, it will certainly be interesting to see who will put on a Vancouver Canucks jersey come June.

Next up on the list is a high-risk, high-reward player in Nikita Popugaev of the WHL Prince George Cougars.

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Name: Nikita Popugaev

Position: Right wing

Shoots: Right

Birthdate: 1998-11-20

Height, weight: 6’6”, 203 lbs

Team, league: Prince George Cougars, WHL 

Stats (from 







#50 by Future Considerations
#17 by McKeen’s Hockey
#28 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

Risk, Reward: 4.5/5, 5/5

NHL-potential: First-line winger

Draft Range: Top 60

Scouting report

"A big, lanky, offensively minded winger…a massive and skilled player who shows offensive prowess and underrated skills without the puck…gets from Point A to Point B in good time, but has some work to do on his stride…has surprising agility for a kid his size…tends to lean toward being a goal-scorer…can really rifle the puck and has an exceptional release…dangerous as he trails the play looking for open ice to get a shot off…can really jive and juke around to shake opponents, showing craftiness in his hands…has good vision of the ice and acts quickly to make plays…has an unreal reach and protects the puck with it…a predatory player without the puck and won’t back off when applying pressure…when he gains more muscle and improves his skating, he will be an absolute force. (Future Considerations)"


Nikita Popugaev is a big winger who could become an incredibly dangerous power forward at the next level. At 6-foot-6 and 203 pounds, Popugaev looks downright scary playing in a league that features 17-year-old 5-foot-7 players. He is an offensive force with a lot of upside.

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What stands out the most about Popugaev is his shot. He has an exceptional release and a lot of power in his shots, making him a constant offensive threat. When Popugaev gets the puck in the slot, you don’t want to be the goalie — he will snipe it past you before you even see it.

In addition, Popugaev has great vision and offensive awareness. He sees openings and consistently gets open to create danger in front of the net. The defense always needs to keep an eye on him or he will get open in high-danger scoring areas and get pucks at the net.

Furthermore, Popugaev has great stick-handling skills. He isn’t the most dynamic player on the ice, mostly due to his size, but he can deke around opponents and get into scoring positions. Overall, Popugaev is an intriguing player because of his combination of size and scoring ability.


Popugaev went into the year as a potential top-10 pick and the top eligible Russian player. But, he fell down considerably on scouts’ lists, and the reasons are serious.

First of all, Popugaev is not a good skater. Scouts worry he might not be quick enough on his feet to keep up at the highest level. Having skill and a wicked shot is nice, but it won’t get you far if your feet can’t keep up with the pace. This is not only an issue offensively, but also on the backcheck.

Even worse are the question marks about his work ethic. Popugaev was traded by a top team (the Moose Jaw Warriors finished the year second in the East Division) mid-season, despite having scored 20 goals in 26 games to start the year. The Warriors must’ve had their reasons, and those reasons might be enough for NHL teams to let him drop far in the draft. That along with rumors of him being lazy could cause Popugaev to fall not only out of the first round but quite a bit in the second as well.

Final Thoughts

The NHL Draft is all about taking chances. No one knows what an 18-year-old player will become at the NHL level. For most of the 200-plus players picked, nobody even knows if they can make the NHL at all.

But when there’s a player like Popugaev, things get even harder. He has incredible skill and an excellent shot, along with a hulking frame. If he can develop into an NHL power forward, teams will wish they had picked him in the top 15. But if he can’t — if he turns out to be a bust — the team that picked him will wish they hadn’t.

There is no way to know how far Popugaev will drop. Maybe he’ll fall to 50th, like in Future Considerations‘ Spring 100, or maybe a team will take a chance at him in the late first round. It all depends on the risk teams want to take.

Next: 2017 NHL Draft Profile Overview

In the Canucks’ current situation, it might be too early to take risks. Right now, they should try to draft as many future NHL players as possible. But if they had a chance to get a potential top-line power forward with a boom-or-bust pick in the second round, should they pass up on him? Perhaps not.