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|Stars' Nichushkin, 18, rapidly adjusting: American family helps Russian get acclimated
23 сентября 2013 года. Allen, Kevin. USA TODAY
Perhaps the best indication of how quickly Russian rookie Valeri Nichushkin, 18, is adjusting to North American culture is that he already has discovered the aggravating nature of golf.
"I did take him golfing a couple times. He is trying to learn (the sport), and he was frustrated like us all," said Paul Fletcher, a Dallas Stars season ticketholder who has opened his home to Nichushkin while the youngster acclimates to a new league and culture.
Nichushkin's ability to adapt quickly is important to the Stars, because they hope they hit the jackpot when they drafted him 10th in June.
"He's been everything and more than we expected," Stars general manager Jim Nill said.
Nichushkin scored two goals and had nine shots on goal in his first NHL preseason game, and every indication is he will play immediately for the Stars.
"We were excited, but I want to be cautious," Nill said. "He's a young player, and there are going to be highs and lows and there are going to be ups and downs. We just need to manage him properly. But the potential is there to be an elite player."
Nichushkin is a 6-4 winger who has played against men in the Kontinental Hockey League. Scouts viewed him as a potential top-five pick. But NHL general managers pause when considering Russian players, because they could be competing against the KHL for their services at some point.
"And let's not forget this was a good draft and all of those players drafted ahead of him are good players," Nill said.
Nichushkin expedited his adjustment to the NHL by coming over this summer and taking English lessons. Placing him with a Dallas family has helped, because the Fletchers speak to him only in English and are there for him if he has questions.
"He has totally embraced us as a family, and we have totally embraced him as one of the family," Fletcher said.
When he first moved in, the Fletchers relied on hand signals and Google translator to communicate.
"Sometimes we had trouble learning his eating habits," Fletcher said. "He has asked for a certain kind of food, and we thought it was something else. Once it got on his plate, it was like, 'Oh my goodness, what is this?' He does not like spicy food."
Fletcher said Nichushkin's English skills had significantly improved.
"He understands everything pretty well," Nill said. "So far, the coaches have had no trouble showing him how to do drills."
Nichushkin's adjustment also has been made easier by the fact that Fletcher has three children, teenage daughters Zoe and Robin and 12-year-old hockey-playing son PJ, who have helped him become accustomed to life in Dallas. PJ served as Nichushkin's tour guide.
"PJ drove with him everywhere," Fletcher said. "He showed him how to get from A to B, even how to get down to the Stars' office. All of a sudden I started getting messages from him that he is sitting in the corner of (assistant GM) Les Jackson's office while Val and his agent are talking about contracts or other things."
Nichushkin's rookie contract makes him a millionaire, but Fletcher says he and his wife never have lost sight of how young he is.
"When you look at him, you think he should have the maturity of a 25-year-old because of the build he has," Fletcher said. "But at his core he is just a kid. He likes to do things like teenagers do."
That includes playing Xbox with PJ and Fletcher. "I finally beat him once last week, and believe me I celebrated pretty hard," Fletcher said.
Nichushkin likes the Big Brother television show and other reality shows featuring competitions. His favorite channel: NHL Network.
"He keeps it simple," Fletcher said. "He doesn't get involved in the craziness of American pop culture. Twitter and Facebook. He is not caught up in that."
Fletcher marvels at how quickly Nichushkin picks up everything, given that he is 18 and in a foreign country. During the rookie's first golf outing, it was a relentlessly hot day.
"I could tell Val was frustrated, but by the end of the day he was at least hitting it straight," Fletcher said.
Fletcher and his wife, Sandra, had never seen Nichushkin play until his preseason debut.
"We had the same level of nervousness (we have) when we watch our 12-year-old kid play," Fletcher said. "We want him to do well. We want him to be successful. We watch him on every shift he takes."
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