Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery made the decision to scratch Valeri Nichushkin last Saturday, but was it the right decision?
He missed the first few games of the year because of an injury, but in the 21 games he’s played so far, he’s only got 4 points and is still looking for his first goal.
There are only two other forwards this season without a goal. One is Justin Dowling, who only played 6 games with the Stars while he was up. The other is Brett Ritchie, who has been healthy scratched this season as well.
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If Nichushkin was putting up a bunch of assists, he’d probably have more patience from the coaching staff, but he’s only got 4.
Those numbers would be fine if he was a really impressive two-way player, but that’s not what he’s supposed to be for the Stars. They needed someone who could come in and help with depth scoring, and he’s not doing that.
Of course, he was never a super high-scoring forward in the first place, even before he went to the KHL. He had 14 goals his first season, which was great and made fans excited to see how he’d continue to do. After that, he had to miss most of the next season and only had 9 goals the following year before leaving for the KHL.
Nichushkin has 23 goals and 68 points in 187 games, which wouldn’t be terrible for some players, but isn’t where a 10th overall pick is expected to be in his 6th post-draft season.
He has done some good defensively for the team this season, but even there, he’s beneath what would be expected for a two-way player. Guys like Alexander Radulov are out-hitting and out-blocking him, and he’s tied for 12th on the team in defensive point share. Even Tyler Seguin‘s emergence as an improved two-way center is also making Nichushkin’s play look worse.
With his performance so far this season, a healthy scratch for Nichushkin is a logical choice. It’s an attempt to motivate him into improving and to give someone else a chance in the line-up.
There’s two questions now that come from this: how will Nichushkin respond, and who’s next?
If Nichushkin comes back tonight and has a solid offensive performance, that’s amazing, but if he can even just get things rolling and potentially get his first goal in the next few games, that’s great. The ball’s in his court on where things go from here, and if he doesn’t want a repeat of his last season with the Stars, he knows what he needs to do.
As for who’s next for a potential healthy scratch, it might be Mattias Janmark. He’s had the least impressive offensive performance this year apart from Ritchie and Nichushkin, and he’s falling into that territory if he can’t get himself back on track.