The CIBC Canada Russia Series is an annual six-game series that takes place every November between Russia and Canadian-born players from each of the Canadian Hockey League's three-member leagues.
A vital evaluation tool for both countries ahead of the World Junior, Devils forward Nikita Gusev led the series in scoring in 2011. This year, both countries were tied in points after Russia had won Game 6 in a shootout.
A special shootout was needed to declare a series winner.
Up stepped Nolan Foote. The 6'4", 19-year-old, who was born in Colorado but as a duel-citizen competes for Canada, had already scored twice in Game 6 and in the first shootout. With the series outcome on his stick in the special shootout, Foote turned the Russian goalie inside out and ripped home the winning goal to give Team WHL (and Canada) the victory.
"It was intense," said Foote at the time, "It was such a great test for the World Juniors, they were evaluating and it felt good."
Seven weeks later, Foote helped Canada to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
The Tampa Bay Lightning took Foote 27th overall at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. He is now Devils property after Blake Coleman was sent to Tampa last week. As a result of that trade the Devils now have three prospects - Foote, and defensemen Kevin Bahl and Ty Smith - from that gold medal squad.
"He's got the NHL bloodlines and has the size and skills," said Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief, who has operated his independent scouting newsletter for more than two decades from Lake Placid, N.Y. "He has (all the elements) of a good NHL power forward (playing the wing), though there is some concern about his skating."
Woodlief is referring to Adam Foote, Nolan's father, and the former hard-rock NHL defenseman.
Nolan's older brother, Cal, is also a defenseman and draft pick of the Lightning. For two seasons, Foote played with his brother on the Kelowna Rockets. Cal Foote graduated to pro hockey two seasons ago after he also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior. Their father was installed as the Rockets head coach in the fall of 2018, replacing former Devils defenseman Jason Smith.
It hasn't all been hiccups and giggles for Foote and the Rockets since that time. The Rockets, also the junior club of recent Devils callup Nick Merkley, have not been the sum of their parts and Adam Foote was recently relieved of his duties as the club prepares to host the Memorial Cup in May.
On top of that change, Nolan Foote has battled injuries for much of the past two seasons.
"Had we known he had the arm injury (last season) we would have had him ranked higher," said Woodlief, "we had him outside the first round but I think had it been known he was hurt, we would have put him more about where he eventually was drafted by the Lightning."
Foote validated his first-round selection by playing well starting with Team Canada's summer evaluation camp and in regular season play before leaving for the World Junior. To that end, Foote had a spot virtually locked up on the eventual gold medalist before the team convened for its final selection camp in December. He ended up as one of Canada's most effective forwards with three goals and two assists in seven tournament games. In 27 games this season with the Rockets, he has 15 goals and 18 assists after 63 points (36G, 27A) in 2018-19.
"He's strong on the puck and will take it to the net," said Mark Edwards, the director of scouting for HockeyProspect.com, "He protects the puck well and his shot is high-end with power, velocity and he's got a quick release. His skating is an area where he needs to improve."
Edwards, showing an adept sense of humor in summing up Foote's game, ended with this summation:
"Hands are better than the Foote."
Humor aside, assessing teenage hockey players is about projection, not necessarily their play and skills set right now. To that end, Foote possesses puck skills that are already NHL-like and should only get better. That, combined with the belief he'll continue to improve his feet, has most observers optimistic that Foote projects as a solid two-way pro who can move up and down the lineup.
"When the puck is on his stick, it's not there long before he gets it on net with a great shot," said Woodlief, "There just isn't a lot of wiggle to his game."
Foote will play in the Memorial Cup in May because the Rockets are hosting the annual national championship of major junior hockey in Canada. League champions from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League fill-out the four-team tournament.
The Ottawa 67's, the top-ranked team in Canada, could qualify for the Memorial Cup by winning the OHL title. If Ottawa does, Devils prospects Bahl, Graeme Clarke, Mitchell Hoelscher and Nikita Okhotyuk will face Foote and the rest of the Rockets.