Since coming off of a summer’s worth of continued rehab following hip surgery and being a healthy scratch in two straight games near the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, Dallas Stars forward Valeri Nichushkin has looked much more like the high-potential, highly skilled forward Jim Nill drafted at No. 10 overall in 2013. His elongated and powerful stride has returned, he’s taking the puck to the net with authority, and he’s operating at a level much closer to what the Stars saw shades of during his rookie season, when he was often paired with Dallas’ one-two punch of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and collected 34 points in 79 games.
We’ve touted the recent play of the young Russian on this website but also noted that, at some point, his improved play would need to begin translating into tallies on the scoresheet for the high-flying Stars offense.
Thursday night, he took a giant leap toward making that happen.
Nichushkin opened Friday’s game at Vancouver alongside Benn and Seguin, becoming the latest shuffled pawn in Ruff’s master plan on the heels of a three-goal collapse in Calgary. He responded immediately, tying the game with this goal in the first period:
That’s vintage Nichushkin. When he’s at his best, he’s beating defenders with his stride, driving to the net with authority and refusing to stop until he puts the puck in the back of the net.
To complement his goal, Nichushkin fed Seguin a between-the-legs pass that led to the Stars’ second tally of the night:
During a season in which Ruff’s line blending has often resulted in positive outcomes, this may be one of the head coach’s masterworks. It was overwhelmingly obvious that he’d been toying with the idea of running Nichushkin with his thoroughbreds, but he finally committed to the move in the aftermath of the club’s ugly loss in Calgary and was rewarded for his boldness.
Nichushkin’s one flaw during his resurgence was his decisiveness with the puck when it comes to pulling the trigger or attempting to find an open teammate, but he looked much more sure of his decisions and confident in his ability Thursday. Of course, scoring a highlight reel goal and feeding the league’s best road scorer with a between-the-legs pass probably had something to do with that.
It’s been evident that Nichushkin has been on the verge of a breakout for some time, and he’s been a major factor in the Stars’ offense as of late. Will his promotion to a spot alongside one of the best, if not the premier, duo in the league finally allow him to break the seal? If Thursday night’s game is any indication, it may be time to invest in a rising Nichushkin.