Carter Popoff is hoping to thrive in a versatile role when the Vancouver Giants open up the Western Hockey League regular season on Friday night against the Victoria Royals.
The 18-year-old Richmond Minor Hockey graduate has always had a knack for scoring goals.
He was one of the main guns on a Richmond Blues rep team that enjoyed plenty of success including reaching the Bantam Tier One provincial championship game. As a 15-year-old, he was second in scoring only to current Portland Winterhawks star Nic Petan as a member of the Major Midget Greater Vancouver Canadians. He continued to fill the net a year later with the Richmond Sockeyes, producing 61 points in 41 games, including 25 goals.
His production in junior B was enough to be signed by the Giants before his season with the Sockeyes was even finished. Popoff enjoyed a solid WHL rookie campaign with 15 goals in 63 games. He hopes to come close to doubling the production this season but there will be plenty more on his plate too.
Besides seeing second unit power play time, the Giants are using him as one of their main penalty killers. During Sunday's 3-1 pre-season loss to Victoria, Popoff saw regular duty with the shorthanded unit, including a stint when Vancouver was two-man short.
"I killed some penalties with the Canadians and none during my time with the Sockeyes," said Popoff. "(The Giants) thought I played well in our end of the rink and saw something in my game where I could be an effective penalty killer. I've always thought of myself as being a complete two-way hockey player so it's great to be able to do it at this level."
Popoff is part of a Giants rebuilding plan that saw plenty of rough patches a year ago that resulted in the league's worst record (21-49-2) and yielding the top pick in last spring's WHL Bantam Draft - Alberta scoring phenom Tyler Benson. The 15-year-old is still another year away from playing major junior and it will be up to players like Popoff to ensure the Giants will have some momentum upon his arrival.
"It's was definitely not a good thing to go through and losing is something you never want to get use to," said Popoff. "It was important that we went out and gave it our best by working hard every shift."
Popoff expects to be centering a line that will include Travis McEvoy who he had some success with last season. The Giants roster could feature as many as three Richmond players. Veteran Anthony Ast is back for his third season and has already been named an assistant captain, while Shaun Dosanjh is attempting to earn a spot on the blueline after two seasons at Major Midget. Since he graduated from high school in June, Popoff
can now enjoy the comforts of living at home. He doesn't have to look far if he needs any hockey advice. His father - Ron Popoff - coached him throughout minor hockey.
"He has played such a big part in my career," added Carter. "First as a coach and now in a different role of just being a dad that is always there for me."
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