Big Val has left Big D.
After playing 166 games over three seasons with the Dallas Stars, restricted free agent Valeri Nichushkin, the club’s first-round pick in the 2013 NHL draft, is returning to Mother Russia.
CSKA of the KHL has announced a two-year deal with Valeri Nichushkin. https://t.co/hO1h6P0dXY
— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) September 20, 2016
According to some reports, Nichushkin’s departure was driven by frustration with Dallas coach Lindy Ruff over his playing time, as well as a perceived (and obviously mutual) distrust.
Per source Nichushkin doesn’t want to play for Lindy Ruff. Although he wants to return to #Stars someday.Ruff’s contract is for 2 more years
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) September 19, 2016
“He said, she said” and 20/20 hindsight, finger-wagging aside, what does Val’s return to Russia mean for the Stars, both now and in the not-too-distant future?
How Nichushkin’s Absence Impacts 2016-17
Dallas has an embarrassment of riches at forward; so much so, in fact, that future Stars currently playing in the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City will have a very tough time making the jump to the big club this year. Even with the young Russian’s departure, the Dallas forward lines could look like this:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Jiri Hudler
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Patrick Eaves – Cody Eakin – Brett Ritchie
Of the players above, Eaves and McKenzie are most likely to be challenged by up-and-comers Devin Shore, Jason Dickinson and Cole Ully. Obviously, the organization won’t put one of their top prospects in the 13th forward slot, so that means the three aforementioned skaters, plus a dark horse candidate or three (Remi Elie? Denis Gurianov? Adam Cracknell?), will battle the more experienced duo for a single roster spot. That’s some serious depth.
The Val Nichushkin we saw for much of last season would struggle to crack Dallas’ 2016-17 lineup; this year, at least, his absence will largely go unnoticed.
Next Summer and Beyond
Late last season and in the playoffs, “Big Val” began to turn the corner. He seemed to play with more confidence, particularly when skating on a line with Janmark and Spezza and showed flashes of the potential which led Dallas to draft him 10th overall just three years ago.
A breakout 2016-17 season in the KHL would raise Nichushkin’s stock considerably in North America, likely forcing Dallas to protect him in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft next June. The Stars own the winger’s NHL rights for six more years and his KHL contract only runs through 2018, so GM Jim Nill won’t simply give away such a (potentially) valuable asset; a trade is far more likely.
A decision to trade Nichushkin’s rights probably won’t come before next summer however, and might not happen even then. If Nill decides to deal the youngster, waiting until he’s had two full years to develop in Russia and is primed to rejoin the NHL makes the most sense, as that would generate the greatest return.
One additional possibility, though remote, is that Nichushkin and the Stars mend fences and he returns to play in Dallas in the fall of 2018. As the tweet above indicates, that’s the player’s preference. Granted, getting both sides past “I don’t want to play for Lindy Ruff” could be quite difficult, but if Nichushkin wants it bad enough and his play in Russia is good enough, Nill could probably find a rug under which to sweep the mess of September 2016.