Stars: Valeri Nichushkin Beginning to Shine


After sitting out virtually the entire season last year, the Stars Valeri Nichushkin appears to be back to his old self.

The Dallas Stars 2013 first round pick is starting to show signs of life this season and all it took was a move to the Stars top line.

After the epic collapse against Calgary on Thursday, coach Lindy Ruff tweaked the lines (as he loves to do) and moved Valeri up with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Val responded immediately, scoring the Stars’ first goal of the night and adding a brilliant assist right after. At the end of the night, Val had won his confidence and the First Star of the game.

The road hasn’t been easy for the 20-year-old right winger. After a strong rookie season where he posted 34 points with 14 goals and 20 assists, Val was lost for the 2014-15 season after only eight games.

The 6’4” 210 lb Russian came back this season with high expectations and was initially made a top-six forward. But after early struggles, Val’s minutes dropped – along with his confidence.

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The talented forward from Chelyabinsk couldn’t be held down for long. Lindy Ruff was committed to give him steady exposure and ample opportunities. This week things began paying off for Nichushkin. On Saturday he earned one point off an assist, on Tuesday he managed another assist in the embarrassing loss to Calgary, and Thursday (after being moved to the top line) he added a goal and his third assists in three games.

"“I thought he did a great job,” Lindy Ruff said. “He just keeps getting better and better. There’s no secret. If you keep playing well, you’re going to get to play. It’s good he’s been able to learn from adversity.”"

As the season has worn on, Val’s confidence has slowly picked up. He’s playing more aggressively and without hesitation. If Val can continue this steady build, he could very well find himself back on the top line permanently.

In 2013 Nichushkin played primarily on the first line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The reunion on Thursday felt almost natural as the three melded together like old comrades (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

"“I think those guys are best guys in the league, so it made me happy to play with them,” Valeri said. “I like it, and thank you coach for giving me a chance.”"

Note: What was particularly charming about this was Val’s agreement to do the interview. I can’t remember him having done an English interview after a game before and the decision to do it on Thursday says a lot about his overall confidence. It was very difficult to transcribe from my DVR (Thank goodness Sports Day did it for me online as well), but it was great thing to see from him.

In the move, Patrick Sharp was the piece displaced from the top line. The move allowed Sharp to take on a more aggressive role as a scorer and Sharp responded by scoring the game-winner.

On Friday Val remained on Stars top line but based on history, Lindy Ruff’s line shakeup is hardly a permanent thing. In fact, one thing we can be sure of is that Lindy Ruff will not hesitate to mix things up again, if needs be.

Next: A Healthy Kari is Key for the Stars

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Lindy’s constant tinkering has helped Valeri Nichushkin this far, it’s likely it will keep helping the young Russian all season long.