Prospect Impressions: Athanasiou, Parayko, Larkin notch playoff firsts, Mason’s gaffe, Skelleftea’s creative routine

By David Hahn
Nikita Popugaev - Moose Jaw Warriors

Photo: Moose Jaw Warriors forward and 2017 prospect Nikita Popugaev (#71) finished ninth in rookie scoring in the WHL this season, posting 16 goals and 47 points in 70 games (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)



In this week’s Prospect Impressions, a trio of rookies notched their first NHL playoff goals this week, continuing to contribute right where they left off from the regular season. Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason is going to want a half-ice deflection back, and his teammate might want to join him in hiding for a pretty funny reason. There are a number of draft-eligible forwards who created some fantastic highlights this week, and a must-see, pregame presentation from Europe that unites the worlds of hockey and video games.

The NHL playoffs are often considered as a playground for veterans to show exactly why they have been around so long. Clutch players like Justin Williams, Andrew Ladd, and superstars like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have all had their playoff moments, but it is the young guns that are taking center stage this season.

There we’re a trio of players that notched their first NHL playoff goals this week, led off by Andreas Athanasiou, the sparkplug that ignited the Detroit Red Wings playoff push with an absolute laser.

With all due credit to Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere and other impactful rookies this year, Dylan Larkin meant an awful lot to an aging Red Wings lineup this season. Despite slowing down a bit as the regular season dwindled, Larkin picked up his game when it mattered most and unleashed a rocket for his first NHL playoff goal.

Speaking of lasers, are there any other young defensemen that shoot the puck as hard and accurately than Colton Parayko? The St. Louis Blues defenseman scored nine times during the regular season, and reminded Blues fans of Al MacInnis with this one-timer from the point for his first NHL playoff goal.

Most won’t admit it, but at some point in a goaltenders career the unthinkable will happen. Unfortunately for Steve Mason, it came in front of thousands of fans on hockey’s biggest stage, the NHL playoffs. Mason thought he was going to direct a deflected full-ice shot into the corner, but it slipped through his pads and into the net. It was an unfortunate moment for Mason and the Philadelphia Flyers, but you have to admire the guy as he owned it afterwards and was looking forward to the next game.

Almost worse than the goal Mason gave up is the “celebration” immediately following it by his Flyers teammate, Nick Cousins. Perhaps he too was a little confused by what just happened?

After the Sarnia Sting were surprisingly eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in seven games in the OHL playoffs, Pavel Zacha was given an opportunity to play straight away for the Albany Devils in the AHL. He seized the moment, scoring his first professional goal in his second game. With the AHL playoffs on the horizon, take a look at what Zacha is capable of as he prepares for what is expected to be a long run.

JD Greenway prepared himself for a spot on the international stage by coming through the Shattuck St. Mary’s program before joining the U.S. NTDP in his draft-eligible season. Greenway scored five times, assisted on 19 others, and otherwise was a capable two-way defender that drew praise as the year went on. To that point, Greenway was invited to don the USA Hockey crest for the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship tournament, and he buried an absolute beauty this week against Sweden.

At 6’4″ and 185 pounds, Russian forward Nikita Popugaev (2017) is an absolute workhorse for the Moose Jaw Warriors. This is his first season in North America, and his rookie year went quite well. With 16 goals and 31 assists in the regular season, he was given plenty of ice time in the playoffs and responded admirably by scoring four points in six games. In a do-or-die game against Brandon, Popugaev helped extend his teams lead, showing off his reach and one-on-one ability.

The Brandon Wheat Kings advanced to the WHL semi-finals this week thanks in part to their prolific offense. Despite Nikita Popugaev’s efforts, Tim McGauley responded in a big way, as the overage center is rounding into form at the right time. Now healthy after missing a good portion of the season due to injury, McGauley showed off his creativity beside the net to go through his own legs before beating Moose Jaw’s Zach Sawchenko (2016) through the wickets.

Dillon Boucher is no stranger to the tougher side of the game. The second-year forward has been a physical presence for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. In a recent playoff game against Saint John, Boucher was deployed by Cape Breton head coach Marc-Andre Dumont right from the opening faceoff to set the tone for the game. Boucher obliged by hammering Saint John forward Mathieu Joseph (TBL) through the glass, which was captured in a captivating photograph.

Europe has some of the best pre-game presentations, and Skelleftea AIK took theirs to a whole new level. Known as a “tifo,” the Italian word for the phenomenon of supporting a sporting team, Skelleftea supporters brainstormed a flashback take on a classic game.


Last week’s Prospect Impressions feature

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey