We’ve seen it countless times. In every draft there is always that one special, talented player who could be in the discussion for 1st overall pick if it weren’t for “The Russian Factor”. This year’s culprit is Valeri Nichushkin.
Valeri Nichushkin THW Close-Up:
Date of birth: 3/4/1995
Place of birth: Chelyabinsk, Russia
Ht: 6’3″ Wt: 201 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2013
THW The Next Ones Rankings (January 2013): 11
THW Warm Room Rankings (April): 8
ISS (May): 4
Craig Button: 5
Consensus aggregate of several services (NHL Numbers): 5
[NHL 2013 Draft Guide – The Next Ones Draft Headquarters: Your quintessential draft resource]
Nichushkin is a tremendously gifted, big forward who has the skills and finesse of a Russian skater, but the grit, forecheck, and physicality of his North American counterparts. If it weren’t for him being from Russia, he’d be lumped in with the Jones’, MacKinnon’s, and Drouin’s, of the draft.
He’s an effortless skater and uses his body to shield the puck effectively. One aspect that stands out in his game is his willingness to crash the net. He’s very shifty in tight spaces and uses his size in front of the goalie and along the boards.
Nichushkin is a very hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble sort of player on the opposite side of the puck. He knows how to effectively backcheck and forecheck, along with laying the body to knock a player off the puck. He can single-handedly turn the momentum of a game.
There is no question the sought after Russian is a gamble, especially with such a high pick. He no longer has a 2-year contract with the KHL, but will only play in the NHL/KHL, not the AHL. Sure it’s a gamble, but when he puts on an NHL sweater, that gamble will have paid off.
Where Will He End Up In June:
Valeri Nichushkin could be a top 5 pick, but chances are the fact he’s Russian may scare some of the top teams off a bit. I say he doesn’t slip past 12th overall.
“He’s a guy with all kinds of talent. He’s big, he’s a tremendous skater, but in February at the U-18 tournament, that was maybe the most dominant performance I’ve ever seen at those U-18 or World Tournaments. He absolutely took over the tournament. He was good on the forecheck, he was finishing checks, he was making plays or scored big goals in the 3rd period when his team was behind, he never quit on any shift and he was just spectacular. I think when you see that potential and the level he played at in Russian men’s league, you see a very good prospect.
Caveat: He’s got great one-on-one individual skills with the puck, and that was maybe the problem with him, is that you thought maybe he didn’t see the other options and he didn’t play with other players real well.“
Al Murray – Director of Amateur Scouting for Tampa Bay
“Nichushkin checks into our rankings as the class of the Russian prospects in 2013. The rangy winger has a huge frame and oozes offensive potential. Nichushkin should be primed for more minutes this season and is coming off a year where he was a standout at the Under 17 level as well as playing up at the Under 18 level as an underager. Nichushkin has some dynamic ability and an ability to generate chances that could easily vault him into the Top 10, but the Russian factor will be a major concern with him – much like Anton Slepyshev a year ago who wound up being undrafted despite possessing Top 20 talent.”
“Nichushkin has a great combination of size and skill. At 6’04, he is a big and powerful forward, who is extremely hard to stop when he decides that he is going to take the puck to the net. He has great stickhandling ability and puck possession skill, allowing him to also add a skilled finesse game to that package of raw power. Add to that excellent vision and playmaking skills, and a real nose for the net, and you have a complete offensive package. Nichushkin’s size also makes him strong along the boards, effective on the forecheck, and a difficult man to move from the front of the net. His wrist shot is good, but not great, as he could stand to improve his power, accuracy and release. These are minor quibbles though, because the stickhandling, hands, playmaking, size and physical game, are all elite, it makes the shooting seem like a weakness, when its good but not at the same level. All in all, he’s the total package in the offensive zone. To top it all off, Nichushkin is comfortable in all three forward positions, but looks at his best coming in on the right wing.
Nichushkin is an extremely good skater. His stride shows raw power and great top end speed which allows him to make his patented move of going wide on a defender and then cutting it to the net. We’ve seen this move result in a goal in the preliminary round vs the USA in the World Juniors, in the OT winner vs Canada at the Juniors, and various times for his domestic club in Russia. Nichushkin is also able to show off his good balance on his skates and the ability to protect the puck in these goals. Add to that package good agility and edgework, and you have a player who can be called a very good skater, and much better than what most players his size are capable of.”
Ben Kerr – Last Word On Sports
“Nichushkin is a big, strong offensive minded forward who skates well, generating healthy amounts of speed and uses excellent lateral agility, quick feet and skilled hands to beat defenders one-on-one. He is dominant whenever he picks up the puck in the neutral zone with speed and drives wide on a defenseman, using his size to protect the puck and either score, draw a penalty or just create a dangerous scoring chance that displaces the opponent’s defense. Nichushkin has a great shot that jumps off his blade in a flash.”
Aaron Vickers – Future Considerations
Valeri Nichushkin ends Canada’s 14-year medal run (Buzzing the Net)
Nichushkin has played in 5 different tournaments for Russia where he has 17 points in 27 games. At the past World Junior Championships, he scored the game winning goal in overtime against Canada to win the bronze medal.
Risk: 4/5 Reward: 5/5
Top line winger who could challenge as a scoring leader and play all forward positions
Crashing the net
Flaws/Aspects He Needs To Work On:
Adding muscle to his frame
Fantasy Hockey Potential:
Offensive: 10/10 Defensive: 5/10
NHL Player Comparison:
– With his natural skill and ability to crash the net and make big plays, Valeri Nichushkin can be compared to players like Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, and Evgeni Malkin
– Hall of Fame comparison: Pavel Bure
Follow Shawn Reznik on Twitter: @ShawnTHW