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30in30: Stars counting on sophomore Nichushkin

Monday, 08.11.2014 / 9:14 AM CT / News
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer
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30in30: Stars counting on sophomore Nichushkin

A year ago, Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill was curious to see how then 18-year-old rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin would respond to the North American game, the rigors of an 82-game schedule and the obstacles that would inevitably confound the big Russian living in a new country and learning a new language on the fly.

"It was all brand new to him last year," Nill told NHL.com. "He had some frustrating times."

Nichushkin still scored 14 goals and had 34 points in 79 games playing in unfamiliar cities featuring smaller rinks and bigger and better competition than he had ever faced before. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he counted as many as nine breakaways that Nichushkin missed on.

"A little better finish, he could have easily been up there close to 20 goals for us," Ruff said.

He was without question one of the many positives to come out of the Stars' surprisingly successful season. As this season approaches, Nill's curiosity about Nichushkin has advanced to how he will respond to being unshackled from all that was once new and different.

The Stars expect to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs again. They expect to be a contender once they get there. They'll need secondary scoring behind Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. They're counting on Nichushkin.

"We're going to see it," Nill said. "He stayed here for the summer again. He's been training every day. He's excited, itching to get back at it. I think we're going to see more growth from him now. He's been around the League. He just has to worry about hockey."

Nill has already seen more growth in Nichushkin's body.

"I think he's gained 15 or 20 pounds already this summer," Nill said.

Nichushkin was listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds last season. He was able to go into the corners against bigger men like Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber and come out with the puck. Can you imagine the power game he'll be able to play at 6-4, 220 or 225?

"Well, I can't answer that, but I don't ever look at putting on weight as a thing that's going to make you turn the corner unless you put on the right weight," Ruff said. "He's a very powerful skater and I don't want to see him get any slower, but obviously there is room for him to get stronger and I think that's what he's trying to improve on. I'm excited about him."

Spezza is too. Nichushkin is yet another reason why the former Ottawa Senators captain targeted the Stars after requesting to be traded.

"I remember we played against the Stars in Dallas and he blew by a guy who I thought was an exceptional skater," Spezza said on July 1, after he was traded from Ottawa to Dallas. "He made him look like he was barely moving. If I get to play with him, hopefully we can find some chemistry."

Ruff has to determine where he feels Nichushkin fits best. It could be on a line with Spezza and Ales Hemsky, or with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the duo Nichushkin played with last season. It likely will be some combination of those players.

"We saw glimpses of what the upside is going to be," Nill said. "Now that he's North Americanized it's going to be intriguing to watch what he can become. There were times last season when it was unbelievable what he did."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 CHI 56 36 16 4 158 128 76
2 DAL 53 33 15 5 170 142 71
3 STL 55 30 17 8 132 129 68
4 LAK 51 31 17 3 135 117 65
5 SJS 51 27 20 4 147 138 58
6 NSH 53 25 20 8 136 139 58
7 COL 55 27 24 4 148 152 58
8 ANA 50 25 18 7 111 115 57
9 MIN 52 23 20 9 127 126 55
10 ARI 52 24 22 6 138 161 54
11 VAN 52 20 20 12 120 142 52
12 CGY 51 23 25 3 134 148 49
13 WPG 52 23 26 3 136 150 49
14 EDM 54 21 28 5 132 164 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Benn 53 28 31 15 59
T. Seguin 53 28 28 10 56
J. Klingberg 53 8 35 14 43
J. Spezza 52 18 22 5 40
P. Sharp 53 16 24 -1 40
C. Eakin 53 10 13 1 23
A. Goligoski 53 3 20 17 23
M. Janmark 53 10 9 13 19
A. Roussel 51 8 10 5 18
V. Nichushkin 50 6 12 7 18
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 20 10 5 .908 2.52
K. Lehtonen 13 5 0 .907 2.82
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