The New Jersey Devils have convinced a draft pick to come back to North America, signing Nikita Popugaev to an AHL contract for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. Popugaev had played his junior hockey in the CHL and was once a top prospect projected for the first round, but slipped to the fourth after his production dried up. Soon after being drafted in 2017 the big forward left for the KHL, where he once again struggled to put up any offense.
Still, there is plenty of potential in the 6’6″ forward and the Devils have nothing to lose with an AHL contract. Popugaev will get a chance to test his skills in the AHL while working with the team’s strong development staff to try and get him to the next level. There’s no guarantee of anything, but with fourth-round picks there rarely is.
The Devils have also avoided using a contract slot by signing Popugaev to a minor league deal, but will eventually have to make a decision over whether he deserves an entry-level contract. The team is currently sitting at 47 of a possible 50 deals, but will see 20 of those expire at the end of the season.