When the Dallas Stars selected Valeri Nichushkin in the 1st round (10th pick), it was a bold move for the franchise especially since it was rumored he was unwilling to play and be developed in the AHL, instead he preferred to play in the KHL. So after Nichushkin has played 19 of the 20 Stars games, what are the tea leaves beginning to show: big gamble or sure thing?
Born on March 4, 1995, Valeri Nichuskin is 18 years old. He is among the youngest players playing at the NHL level. Yahoo Sports! Canada (http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/nhl/players/5989) reports Valeri has 2 goals (league average is 3), 6 assists (league average is 4) for total of 8 points (league average is 7). More amazingly, his +/- is +6 and the league average is -0. The league averages are for all forwards. His average time on ice is only 15:08. He has demonstrated that he is not afraid to hit with 26 hits. He has 11 blocked shots. All of these statistics bode well for a bright future in the NHL.
Lindy Ruff started Nichushkin on the third line at the start of the season. He was a healthy scratch on October 15th (5th game of the season). He returned to the second line and is now playing on the first line and benefiting from playing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Since returning from the healthy scratch, he has played with more confidence and demonstrated stronger performance. In the last 10 games, he has shown more aggressive shooting having shot 19 of his 26 shots. 4 of his 11 blocked shots have occurred in the last two games. Playing with the two emerging superstars is playing right into Lindy Ruff’s hand demonstrating once again the value of an experienced coach.
Although the performance trend is positive and the statistics are very good, it is too early to declare a sure thing. Playing on the number one line means he will continue to see strong defensive play from the opposing team. In viewing the games, one quickly observes that Valeri is learning the importance and difficulty of puck protection and how the good NHL players have a way of forcing the loss of the puck. The best forwards are masters at puck protection and winning the puck battles, the latter of which is where Valeri has shown much improvement from the start of the season. Valeri has been put on the fast track to becoming a star in the NHL. So although it is too early to declare a sure thing, the selection of Nichushkin is not looking like such a big gamble. The kid looks like he is having fun and the team is feeling confident that they are seeing the creation of one of the toughest first lines in the NHL, a strong statement but one being whispered throughout the NHL.
What are your thoughts on the Dallas Stars gamble on Nichushkin?