Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cougars add Russian sniper . . . Tigers get d-man . . . Benson off the table?

WHL team logo

WHL trades since Dec. 27:
Trades: 14.
Players: 25.
Bantam draft picks: 18.
Conditional bantam draft picks: 1.
(WHL trade deadline is Jan. 10).

The Prince George Cougars made it clear on Thursday that they see themselves as serious challengers
for the Ed Chynoweth Cup by acquiring Russian F Nikita Popugaev from the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The 18-year-old Popugaev is seen as a potential first-round selection in the NHL’s 2017 draft.
In exchange for Popugaev, who is from Moscow, the Cougars surrendered two forwards — Yan Khomenko, 18, who is from St. Petersburg, Russia, and Justin Almeida, 17 — along with two WHL bantam draft picks — a fifth-rounder in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2018.
No doubt this deal was in the works before today, but it came on the heels of a move by the Kamloops Blazers in which they acquired F Lane Bauer, 20, a point-a-game skater, from the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Going into this weekend, the Cougars (27-10-2) are leading the B.C. Division by six points over the Blazers (24-15-2) and seven over the Kelowna Rockets (23-14-3). The Cougars are tied with the Everett Silvertips (25-5-6) for first in the Western Conference standings and second in the overall standings, three points in arrears of the Regina
Pats (26-3-7).
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Popugaev is a late-1998, with a Nov. 20 birthday. He has 51 points, including 22 goals, in 40 games this season. He is tied for seventh in the WHL points derby. Last season, as a freshman, he finished with 16 goals and 31 assists in 70 games.
Popugaev played for Team Russia in the 2016 CHL Canada-Russia series and will play on Team Orr in the Top Prospects Game in Quebec City on Jan. 30.
According to Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen, the two general managers, Todd Harkins of the Cougars and Alan Millar of the Warriors, first started talking trade during the Mac’s midget tournament in Calgary just after Christmas.
"We coveted a right-hand shot because (Kody) McDonald and (Josh) Curtis are the only two in our forward group," Harkins told Clarke. “Not having that right-hand shot hurt our power play at times, so he brings instant credibility to our power play.”
Popugaev is expected to be in Prince George in time to play tonight (Friday) against the Victoria Royals.
This is the second time this season that the Cougars have made what can justly be referred to as a
blockbuster. On Nov. 17, they acquired D Brendan Guhle, 19, from the Prince Albert Raiders for F Kolby Johnson, 18, D Max Martin, 17, a first-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft and a third-round selection in 2019.
Khomenko, 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, played last season with Everett, recording five goals and three assists in 46 games. This season, he has 10 goals and 10 assists in 36 games with the Cougars.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Almeida, from Kitimat, B.C., was taken by the Cougars with the fifth overall selection of the 2014 WHL bantam draft after putting up 147 points, including 80 goals, in 70 games with the North Shore Winter Club’s A1 Tier 1 bantam team.
This season, Almeida has four goals and nine assists in 37 games, after putting up two goals and four assists in 48 games as a freshman last season.
“From our end,” Millar told reporters, “in terms of where our team is at, where we believe we can be now and in the future, the return . . . just fit with what we’re building, how we want to play the game and (it’s) a new opportunity for Popugaev that I think will benefit him.
“It gives a different look to our hockey team. I think we got deeper, I think we got a little bit more responsible, a little bit more validity in terms of our two-way game, and we felt that was important moving forward.”
Millar said that the Warriors feel Khomenko is an import player who is getting his feet under him in his second season and will only get better.
“We think he’s a little bit of an under-the-radar guy and we think he complements our group real well,” Millar said.
As for Almeida, Millar noted his point total in his draft season, saying: “He’s a big part of the deal and a big part of our future. His hockey IQ is high. He’s a smart player and very skilled.”
The Warriors (23-9-7) are second in the East Division, six points behind the Regina Pats, who hold three games in hand, and two ahead of the Swift Current Broncos.
“We’re  still a very young team,” Millar said. “We only have four 19-year-old players on our roster. . . . We banked some picks, which we think is going to be really valuable this year and next.”
The Warriors are expected to have Almeida and Khomenko in their lineup tonight when they play host to the Saskatoon Blades.
The Medicine Hat Tigers, wanting to add some experience to their back end, have added Jordan
Henderson, 19, from the Saskatoon Blades for a fifth-round selection in the 2017 WHL bantam draft.
The Tigers will be without D David Quenneville, the WHL’s highest-scoring defenceman, for the foreseeable future after he suffered a broken tibia while blocking a shot in the first period of a 6-2 loss to the visiting Regina Pats on Tuesday night. Quenneville has 48 points, including 20 goals, in 38 games.
The 6-foot-0, 180-pound Henderson is going to his third WHL team this season. The Blades had acquired him from the Spokane Chiefs on Nov. 11 for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 bantam draft. 
Henderson had a goal and three assists in 20 games with the Blades, after recording four assists in 15 games with the Chiefs. In 132 career games, he has two goals and 15 assists.
The Chiefs had selected Henderson, who is from Surrey, B.C., in the fourth round of the 2012 bantam draft.
Henderson is expected to make his Medicine Hat debut against the visiting Vancouver Giants on Saturday.
If you are wondering what the future holds for F Tyler Benson of the Vancouver Giants, here’s Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal:
“The Vancouver Giants have listened to offers on Oilers second-round draft Tyler Benson before the Jan. 10 Western Hockey League deadline. One Western Conference team made a heckuva offer for the 18-year-old winger (a good 2000-born player and draft picks), then was told he was off the table when it ran up to the owner Ron Toigo.”

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