The Dallas Stars need to find some of that sweet offense for 2019. They’re going to have to look under every rock and put on the heavy gloves to dig in every dirty couch they come across looking for spare offensive change. Today we dive into the Soviet Couch and look at old friend Valeri Nichushkin.
The first draft pick of Jim Nill as the Stars General Manager is only two months past his 23rd birthday. He’s coming back from Russia for the 2019 season so he should provide some offense down the lineup. How much he’s going to provide is where the problem comes in.
Val came out of the gates with 34 points as a rookie in 2014 before missing virtually all of 2015 due to injury. In 2016 he had another 29 points. Over his last 86 games in the KHL Nichushkin has 51 points which translates to roughly 30 points in the NHL.
Any number of reasons for this low total can be justified if you are so inclined, but I’m not. If you can score, you can score in the KHL. Ilya Kovalchuk has 285 points in 262 games the last five seasons. Pavel Datsyuk has 69 in 81 over the last two years.
And they’re old.
So if you’re looking for Nichushkin to come back and be a dynamic offensive player you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. He always looks dynamic though which is where the expectations and frustration come from. Look at him dice up the KHL before setting up a tap in goal.
Nichushkin has some slick hands. He can stickhandle, he can bulldoze his way to the net, and everything he does looks smooth. The slickness masks a lot of warts. Nichushkin looks the part of a dominant offensive forward, but mostly plays the game of a power forward with limited finishing ability.
Razor pointed this out with Nichushkin early on and I’ve never been able to shake it. Val can’t elevate the puck. This is purely anecdotal, but it seems like almost every one of his goals is nearly flat on the ice or a deflection. He can’t, or at least hasn’t been able to, shoot.
As a rookie Nichushkin produced at the rate of a third liner at even strength with third line minutes. The images are from hockeyviz.com.
After a lost season Val came back for the 2016 season and took a step back to perform at the level of a fourth liner. He was beyond useless on the powerplay in both seasons.
I pulled a bunch of data from Corsica to further illustrate the point.
I took the even strength data collected for Nichushkin’s two full seasons. 21 forwards got into more than ten games in those two seasons. If you rolled 12 forwards to fill out a lineup from those two years Nichushkin might make the lineup.
Those are his rankings in all of the aforementioned stats among the group of forwards.
I ran this poll for a reason.
There likely isn’t much difference production wise between Antoine Roussel and Nichushkin. The difference is in perceived potential or banking on youth. I would bank on youth too if the options are basically split though, honestly, spending legitimate money on either player is probably foolish.
I’m falling into the trap of focusing on what he can’t do. What can Nichushkin do that can help the Stars depth scoring issue? He can crash the hell out of the net and set up his linemates. Nichushkin needs to be on the ice with guys who can follow him to the net and accept passes from him in prime scoring areas. He’s best when the puck is on his stick. Let him have it.
The problem is he’s going to have to earn time with the guys who can do that, and the Stars don’t have many of them. Nichushkin isn’t taking Alexander Radulov‘s place in the lineup, but speaking of Radulov, that’s who Nichushkin needs to study endlessly.
At his absolute best that is who Nichushkin should strive to be: a big playmaking winger with some sand paper. At his worst Nichushkin is a bottom six forward who will drive the play to the other end of the rink which is absolutely valuable. You need guys like that to be successful. You just don’t want to pay them a ton of money when they are apparently relatively easy to acquire (hi Vegas).