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Nolan Foote: A Big Shot With Big Potential —2019 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

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Nolan Foote, once touted a top three pick, has the potential to bring a deadly shot to the NHL level, but will a disappointing sophomore season and a slower stride hold him back?

Tri-City Americans v Kelowna Rockets Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

Who is Nolan Foote?

In his third year with the Kelowna Rockets and wearing the A this season, Foote needed to put up a stronger season than he did last year. At 6’3”, Foote spent a summer putting effort into his nutrition and strength-training plans and bulked himself up to a solid 190lbs this season. The improvements translated to the scoresheet in a big way: Foote put up 36 goals and 27 assists in 66 games this season, a huge increase from his 13 goals and 27 assists in 50 games last season. Scouts expected to see much more from Foote that season—he’d put up 19 goals his first season in the league as a 16-year-old, and was expected to develop into a top pick that could go anywhere from easily top ten to possibly even a top three-type player. After failing to surpass his earlier numbers in his sophomore season, scouts and prospect-watchers backed off Foote extensively, with concerns about everything from his consistency to his skating ability. His shot however, which had impressed from his first moments on WHL ice, was never an area of concern—Foote’s shooting percentage in ‘17-18 was 10.0%, a hair above average for most players. The issue was instead his lack of shots—he took only 130 shots, averaging 2.6 shots per game. For a shoot-first winger, that’s definitely not enough.

The hockey community backed off Foote so heavily after his disappointing sophomore season that he didn’t receive an invitation to play for Team Canada at the 2018 World Juniors, but that may have been a good thing for Foote—it gave him time to heal and train. Foote’s ‘17-18 season was hampered by injury and illness, including a broken collarbone that required surgery and a stint on the IR with mono. He bulked up and healed for the next season, determined not to let injury stop him this time. Foote played much better from the moment the Rockets took the ice in preseason, but he really heated up his game and kept it hot from November on—right around the time his unknowingly broken wrist likely healed. Foote stated in an interview he broke his wrist early in the season, but never knew it was broken until much later, meaning much of his 8 point October and 12 point November came through a pretty impressive handicap.

Where is Nolan Foote Ranked?

With all the ups and downs in Foote’s recent seasons, his draft rankings have bobbled severely. The disconnect between his freshman and sophomore year production lead most scouts to drop him hard in their rankings.

Foote came into this year’s preseason ranked in varying places amongst the first round with the rare early second:

-Larry Fisher (The Hockey Writers): 31st

-Steve Kournianos (The Draft Analyst): 41st

-Andrew Forbes (The Hockey Writers): 16th

-Ryan Pike (The Hockey Writers): 10th

-Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet: 25th

-Future Considerations: 12th

-Craig Button (TSN Draftcentre): 27th

-Ryan Kennedy (The Hockey News): 29th

Midseason rankings tended drop as the season progressed, with Foote ending up mostly in the late first-mid second round area.

-NHL Central Scouting: 26th

-Larry Fisher: Foote rose up to 20th on Fisher’s rankings in November before settling in the upper 20’s most of the season (January-February-March)

-Steve Kournianos: 47th

-Andrew Forbes: 24th

-Ryan Pike: 25th

-Sam Cosentino: Up to 19th in December before falling off the first round list in March

-Future Considerations: Dropped to 20th on the Fall ranking, and down to 37th in Winter

-Craig Button: dropped to 39th in January

-Ryan Kennedy: dropped off the first round list

-Bob McKenzie (TSN Draftcentre): 27th in January (not in first round rankings at preseason)

Final Rankings settled almost exclusively in the second round between March and May:

-NHL Central Scouting: 37th

-Larry Fisher: 32nd

-Steve Kournianos: 55th

-Andrew Forbes: 25th

-Ryan Pike: 40th

-Future Considerations: 49th

-Craig Button: 40th

-Elite Prospects: 58th

What Have Other People Said About Foote?

Despite the injuries and a rough sophomore campaign, Foote has some impressive reviews throughout the prospect community. The focus tends to be on his shot, but other areas of his game have gotten some positive attention as well. In particular:

His hockey sense-

“Very smart player who’s strong on his stick and cerebral in his positioning and thinking.”- Bill Placzek, Draftsite

“Foote has an excellent sense of the game, reading developing plays and reacting appropriately.” - Prospect Pipeline

“Good understanding of the game with and without the puck to play well in all situations” - NHL Central Scouting

His stickhandling and tenacity on the puck-

“Foote is also a good playmaker with puck protection and passing skills.” - Benn Kerr, Last Word on Hockey

“Foote has above average hands and can make one-on-one moves in tight with the puck.” - Prospect Pipeline

Grit and battling, particularly in front of the crease where Hockey Prophet’s Brian Fogarty describes him as “a handful”-

“When the other team has the puck, he is quick to get in on the forecheck, causing pressure and creating turnovers... Foote is willing to work in the dirty areas of the ice. He gets to the front of the net and uses his size to create havoc.” - Kerr

“[Foote is] a highly competitive player with a motor that rarely slows down. He battles hard for loose pucks and isn’t afraid to use his body in board battles.” -Prospect Pipeline

Without a doubt though Foote’s accuracy with the puck is his biggest asset. His shot, whether he’s skating in for a wrist shot or a loosing a one-timer, has been a force to be reckoned with (so much so that opposing teams post about when his shot doesn’t go in) and his passes in the zone come complete with noted amounts of sauce.

What Foote doesn’t seem to have, unfortunately, is Footespeed. His skating skills aren’t necessarily bad—his agility and “changes of direction are abrupt” per Placzek but his overall speed and acceleration, in particular his first step and early strides, definitely require improvement in the coming seasons. Fogarty, who watched Foote during the Sherwin Williams Top Prospects game, noted he seemed to be a bit slower than the pace of game, lacking a step behind all the top-level talent present in this year’s draft class. Foote worked with Rockets’ skating coach Evan Marble and Buffalo Sabres’ skills coach Angelo Ricci over the summer prior to the ‘18-19 season, with noted improvements to his overall quickness. Prospect Pipeline noted on his skating-

“It isn’t necessarily a weakness, but Foote could certainly add some more speed and agility to his game. This would allow him to rush the puck with more success and be able to handle the puck better at top speeds. For now, Foote generally finds his success as the trigger-man off of the half-wall. A more effective stride would enable Foote to add another element to his game, as well as improve his 200 foot game.”

A Few Visual Aids...

Foote’s main appeal comes from his huge shot, which can take the form of a smooth wrist shot-

...Or a huge one-timer:

He’s definitely not the fastest skater on the ice—

You can see his acceleration here, or lack thereof.

A few extra highlights for good measure and viewing pleasure-

The Verdict-To Draft, or Not to Draft?

With all the attention on top players like McDavid, Hischier, Hughes—all of whom bring such incredible speed to the game— it’s tough to look objectively at a player who doesn’t have that speed. Fogarty’s comments on Foote’s slower appearance in the Top Prospects game really drives that home—he works hard and in particular excels in battles and in front of the net, where speed isn’t as much of a factor, but when he goes from WHL to a small pond with some very big fish moving at the speed of Hughes or Cozens, his struggles with acceleration become evident. That being said, two things stick out in Foote’s defense: first, Foote’s quickness improved notably after one off-season with some strength training and a WHL skating coach— he will very likely not pick up the speed of Hughes or Hischier, but a few seasons with AHL and NHL skating instruction and training has the potential to bring his skating up to a level he can be comfortable with around NHL-level players, and second, Foote has developed a playing style and a successful roll for himself without that speed. Yes, speed will absolutely improve his game—there’s no such thing as a player who couldn’t be a better player if they were to become a few steps quicker— but Foote plays a strong game without that speed, something I think is well highlighted in the clip from Kournianos. He’s not the most agile kid on the ice, but once he reaches his better speeds he knows what to do with his feet and can control the puck while he’s moving. He’s calm and confident in his hands—essentially, where most top prospect-type players would be confident making those moves because they know they can outskate the defenders, Foote’s ability to make those decisions comes from his confidence in his hands and his size which would allow him to out-battle the other player if they were to reach him and the puck. Effectively, he’s slower, but he’s strong and smart and has plenty of room to improve.

There’s something to be said for the state of this year’s draft class that we’re looking at a player who put up a point per game and a .15 SH% while playing through a broken wrist and we’re questioning if he’s even a first round pick. His rough ‘17-18 season drives concerns for his consistency, and his below-average skating skills definitely lower his stock value in the draft rankings, but that could honestly make him a steal. He brings an undeniably impressive shot, good size and grit with a willingness to battle hard—he even earned himself a Gordie Howe hat trick back in March— and he’s an extremely versatile forward. Despite playing left wing predominantly for Kelowna—a position better suited for his skating skills— Foote has played center when needed and regularly takes face-offs when a left-handed draw is more suited.

What does all this make him worth to an NHL team, and should the Devils be the one’s to draft him? With this year’s draft class, I have to argue that his skating knocks him off the potential for a first round spot. There are some mock drafts that have Tampa taking him 31st overall, and considering they drafted his brother who was also considered to have some skating weaknesses, I can see that one happening. Outside that, I’d put him as a mid-second round pick for most teams. For the Devils, Foote brings a tough question, because the majority of the rebuild has focused on bringing in players with speed and agility and trading away the player that I’d argue most resembled Foote’s skillset in Brian Boyle (yes Boyle is bigger and older and Foote has better hands, but if I look at the players that have dressed for New Jersey this season and have to pick the one who’s biggest strengths were a hard accurate shot and battling in the crease, its Brian Boyle and Kyle Palmieri, and Foote doesn’t have Palmieri’s feet). On the other hand, he could potentially bring a solid shot and a strong shoot-first mentality to a lineup of playmakers and fancy skaters, and though I won’t go so far as to make the we-need-an-enforcer-type-to-protect-our-small-skill-players argument, a little extra size on the wing next to some of our smaller rookies certainly couldn’t hurt. Given the other players who better fit NJ’s projected future lineups, I’d say Foote isn’t a top prospect for the Devils and I can see another team taking him earlier than this, but he might be a good choice for a slice of variety and a chance at developing him into a solid top-six player with a pick late in the second round.

Your take

Is his shot worth taking a shot on him, or should we pass by this slow-skater? Can he improve enough to be the top 6 winger he’s projected to be, or even NHL-ready? Do you think we should draft him, and if so, when? Leave your comments below, I apologize for my foot puns, and thanks for reading!