Training camp is just three weeks away and there has still been no word of the Stars re-signing Valeri Nichushkin. According to a recent article by Stars beat reporter Mike Heika, general manager Jim Nill remains confident they will sign Nichushkin. However, the Stars recent signing of unrestricted free agent Jiri Hudler brings more questions about the future of Nichushkin.
Hudler is legitimate top six forward, who Nill knows well from their days in Detroit. Was Hudler signed to add more depth to an already deep stable of forwards? Or is a potential trade looming? See my THW colleague Matt Pryor’s take here.
Jim Nill’s Debut Pick as Stars GM
Nichushkin was Nill’s first draft choice (10th overall) as GM of the Stars in 2013. While some organizations now tend to shy away from Russian players, Nill has had success with Russian players in his previous role as Assistant GM with Detroit.
At the time Nichushkin was already 6’3″and 203 pounds. Here was THW’s Next Ones scouting report going into the 2013 Draft. After a strong rookie training camp, Nichushkin was able to make the Stars roster.
As an 18-year-old rookie, Nichushkin displayed good chemistry playing on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. He was so impressive that former Stars winger and living hockey legend Jaromir Jagr suggested Nichushkin would be the best player in the world one day.
In 79 games as a rookie, Nichushkin scored 14 goals along with 20 assists and plus-20 plus/minus rating.
Sophomore Jinx and Inconsistent Third Season
Health issues all but wiped out Nichushkin’s second season. Hip and groin injuries limited him to only eight games.
Nichushkin’s performance last season was, at best, inconsistent. He failed to reach his rookie season scoring totals. He had nine goals and 20 assists in 79 games. His plus/minus rating also dropped to plus-two.
Not only did he have the lowest shot percentage of any Stars forward (6.5%), He also had the lowest shot percentage of any Russian forward who played 70 or more NHL games.
Nichushkin struggled on the power play. Scoring just one goal and one assist in 78 minutes of power play ice time. He had more missed power play shots (seven) than power play shots on goal (five). It’s important to note many of Nichushkin’s power play minutes were second unit minutes, but still, you have to make the most of your opportunities.
Look for the Stars to Re-Sign Nichushkin
Despite the mixed results last season, the Stars will re-sign Nichushkin. Jim Nill is too smart to give up on a young talent with this much upside. As a teenager, he showed glimpses of greatness during his rookie season. Last season was about getting his legs back after a sophomore season lost due to injuries.
Nichushkin was at his best playing with Benn and Seguin. According to DobberHockey, he played on a line with Benn and Seguin 48.7% of his on-ice minutes as a rookie. Last season only 10.7% of Nichushkin’s minutes were with Benn and Seguin. When you look at it that way it almost justifies Nichushkin falling short of his rookie scoring totals.
I would reunite that trio early in training camp and give them a long look. If the Stars can get that trio clicking on all cylinders again, you have the likes of Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Hudler and the rest to round out the other lines. The Stars offense might be even better than last season. Or said another way, scary good.