Two of the Minnesota Wild’s top prospects have enjoyed stellar college careers, culminating in a meeting in the NCAA Championship Game last weekend. For many college prospects, just one strong season and an NCAA title (or even an appearance) is enough to push them to the pros. However, the Wild may have to wait for these two. The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports that St. Cloud State forward Sam Hentges is expected to return to school for his senior season, while Massachusetts goaltender Filip Lindberg is still considering doing the same. Hentges, a 2018 seventh-round pick, has already played beyond his draft billing. The Huskies center has been a solid, two-way forward through each of his three college seasons, recording 61 points in 94 games along the way. However, he seemingly believes that he has more growing to do at St. Cloud. As for Lindberg, it is hard to imagine that there is any more left for him to prove at UMass. The title-winning goaltender was among the NCAA’s best this season, and last season, and the season before. He has a stunning .937 save percentage, 1.58 GAA, and 29 wins in 50 college appearances. If that wasn’t enough, Lindberg was also part of Finland’s 2019 World Junior gold medal-winning club, pitching a shutout in his lone appearance. Lindberg seems pro-ready, but perhaps the possibility of finally playing a workhorse role for the Minutemen could be enough to keep him around for his senior year. If not, the 2019 seventh-rounder would be the favorite to win the starting job for the AHL’s Iowa Wild next season anyway.
- The New Jersey Devils won’t be getting a second look at prospect forward Nikita Popugaev in North America any time soon. The big Russian forward has signed a one-year extension with the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, the team announced. The Devils hold indefinite possession of Popugaev’s NHL rights, but there are certainly concerns that he may never be an NHL option. The polarizing prospect was considered a first-round talent at one point in the 2017 NHL Draft cycle, especially after back-to-back seasons of top-notch production in the WHL. However, work ethic concerns caused him to slip to the fourth round. He then confirmed some other suspicions by leaving the WHL for Russia, back-tracking on his perceived commitment to the North American game. Popugaev did return late in the 2018-19 season and signed an AHL contract with the Devils, staying through the following year but playing almost exclusively in the ECHL. This caused him to return to Russia again this year and he finally found some success after a mid-season trade to Nizhnekamsk. With a new deal, he hopes to build on that success again next season. Yet, in the big picture Popugaev’s struggles at the pro level in North America and Russia combined with a seemingly mutual resistance between he and the Devils to sign an entry-level contract just yet provides ample doubt that he will ever play in the NHL.
- Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jack Thompson, arguably the best defenseman in their pipeline, is getting his first pro experience. With the OHL out of commission, Thompson has played at the junior level in Sweden this year, scoring at a point-per-game pace. However, he has returned home with his Swedish season over, but the OHL still has not returned to action. As a result, the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, have brought Thompson in on an amateur tryout basis. The 19-year-old defenseman, a 2020 third-round pick, will likely return to the OHL if the league re-starts, but in the meantime will get invaluable experience in the AHL.