There’s a very good chance Valeri Nichushkin continues to fail to realize his vast potential, this time in a Colorado Avalanche jersey. Considering the hypothetical reward if he does though, signing him to a one-year deal was well worth the ever-so-slight risk.
Nichushkin Falls Out with Stars
For starters, in sharp contrast to the magnitude of the risk, Nichushkin is a big body. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, the winger has size to spare. It’s in large part why he was drafted tenth overall in 2013 by the Dallas Stars. It’s also in large part why his 2013-14 rookie season was relatively successful, as he scored 14 goals and 34 points as an 18-year-old.
Hip and groin injuries then derailed his shot at a developing further, his sophomore season. Limited to just eight games in 2014-15, he couldn’t gain traction under then-head-coach Lindy Ruff that campaign the next. Nichushkin then departed for the Kontinental Hockey League once his rookie contract ran its course.
There was legitimate excitement for Nichushkin’s return to the Stars this past season. However the Stars played him an average of just 11:55 per game and he failed to score a single goal in 57 contests (10 assists), missing games due to various ailments and as a healthy scratch.
So, put simply, 2018-19 was an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. There’s just no sugarcoating it, as Nichushkin wasn’t good. It no doubt contributed to the Stars’ decision to buy him out, as they opted to use the $2.25 million in cap space they saved to sign the likes of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.
Nichushkin vs. Perry
The Perry signing is of special interest here as he also scored a disappointing 10 points last season. In addition, the Avalanche were seen as a good fit for Perry once he became a free agent via a buy-out of his own. The argument at the time was a general lack of depth up front beyond the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
The eventual Avalanche acquisitions of Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky are game-changers to a certain degree. However, the point remains the Avalanche have a bunch of floating parts and nothing is set in stone right now. Whether a top-six spot goes to Nichushkin, Colin Wilson, Tyson Jost or the just-signed Joonas Donskoi is anyone’s guess. The point is Nichuskin has the skill set to fill one.
Some may argue Perry is likelier between the two to rebound considering the success he’s had in the past, but is he really, at age 34? Perry can still have an impact in a depth role, but chances are good that’s about it and his days as a top-liner are done.
Granted, Nichushkin, without ever averaging over 15 minutes per game over a single season, never was one. There were of course chances every now and then and flashes of greatness, but Nichushkin still remains a project. The things about projects, though, is they can turn out great, if everyone puts in all the necessary work.
Nichushkin Still Has Potential
Whether Nichushkin is dedicated enough to do so is justifiably in doubt. So, signing Perry for $1.5 million effectively to replace Nichushkin, who had a $2.95 million cap hit, can be seen as a calculated decision that may pay off for the Stars. It’s hard to hate the move. However, if Nichushkin is getting paid just $850,000 like he is now? It flips everything on its head.
Perry is on his way out of the league. Based on his history as a flight risk, that may be true of Nichushkin too, but for a very different reason. He’s just 24 without having reached his peak yet. That means, if the Avalanche stick with him, the best can be yet to come. He may have just signed for one year, but the Avs will retain his rights as he’ll be a restricted free agent.
The Avalanche obviously don’t have to re-sign him, underscoring the lack of risk the move presents. It’s an apt word to use seeing as, however Nichushkin’s season turns out, he’s a relative gift that fell into their laps. They admittedly don’t know what they have in Nichushkin yet. No one really does, but the idea that he could be the solution to all their problems, namely whatever depth issues that remain, is intriguing. Nichushkin may be seen as an enigma, but he could just as easily turn out to be a missing puzzle piece.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.