30 in 15: Nichushkin getting his chance with Stars
Saturday, 09.21.2013 / 3:00 AM
By Tal Pinchevsky
NHL continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Dallas Stars' offseason was marked by a series of additions to their roster. But none was bigger than rookie Valeri Nichushkin -- at least in stature.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Russian forward fell to the Stars at the 2013 NHL Draft, who took the top prospect with the 10th pick. From the moment he slipped on their jersey, the Stars couldn't hide their excitement at getting the hulking forward who won the rookie of the month award three times last season with Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.
"We're excited. We think he's very close [to NHL-ready], but I don't want to put expectations on him, either," Stars general manager Jim Nill told NHL.com. "I want to be careful. He's going to get every opportunity in the world to be on the team. We want to keep him around for a while."
Nichushkin entered Stars training camp with NHL-caliber size; now he has to show he can use it to earn a spot on an NHL roster. He already earned all kinds of attention before being selected by Dallas. Prior to the draft, NHL Central Scouting had Nichushkin ranked second among European skaters, behind Aleksander Barkov, whom the Florida Panthers took with the second pick in the draft.
Concerns over Nichushkin's KHL contract compelled some teams to shy away from him, but he had said before the draft he had terminated the remainder of that contact and wished to play in North America during the 2013-14 season.
"We were excited," Nill said of being able to select Nichushkin. "I think it's no secret everybody had him as one of the top three players in the draft. There is risk with the Russian factor, everybody knows that. Where we were picking, he was a player we couldn't pass on. There was just too much there."
Also playing into Nichushkin's favor in Dallas is the presence of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, an offseason acquisition who, like Nichushkin, was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia. While with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gonchar played a crucial role in the development of star Russian center Evgeni Malkin. The Stars hope Gonchar can play a similar role with Nichushkin.
The Stars were excited about the prospect of Nichushkin making the team out of training camp, and nothing changed once he strapped on the skates. In the first few days, the teenager was turning heads among his potential teammates.
"I saw him a couple of times. I think he's a really good player," veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas told the team's website.
Coach Lindy Ruff said, "You can just see his size his strength. I think he's going to have to get used to the physical nature of players at this level, but it looks like he can handle it."
First impressions notwithstanding, if Nichushkin does make the team he likely won't skate on one of the top two forward lines. He'll have his minutes closely monitored but should benefit greatly from skating alongside veterans Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley, offseason acquisitions who likely will center the team's bottom two lines.
Wherever Nichushkin lines up, it could be the first crucial steps in the career of a rookie the Stars see becoming a franchise pillar one day.
"We're excited about Nichushkin. Physically he's ready. He's a man already. We're just going to monitor him real close and let him come in and see where he fits in," Nill said. "We've added enough depth where he doesn't have to be a go-to guy. He can just come in and play, and that's going to be key to his development."