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| Valeri Nichushkin Still Searching For Offensive Production
12 ôåâðàëÿ 2019 ãîäà. https://blackoutdallas.com
The Dallas Stars are in Florida tonight to take on the Panthers and Valeri Nichushkin will slot back into the lineup. And in tonight’s contest, like in his previous 39 starts, he’ll be searching for one thing: some sort of offensive promise.
I was sitting behind Devan Dubnyk‘s net during the first period of the Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild game back on Feb. 1. I had returned home from college for the weekend and was working my part-time job with the Stars production department while also writing about the game in the press box during intermissions. It’s a fun life I live.
But, enough about me. As I was sitting up against the glass with a camera midway through the period, the Stars forced a turnover in the defensive zone and sent the puck up the ice in hopes of a fast offensive transition.
Valeri Nichushkin caught the puck in the neutral zone and seemed to have a clear path at the net and a scoring chance. Seconds later, however, a Minnesota defender had caught him and forced a turnover.
As I looked up from the camera, the two sections of fans on either side of me let out a simultaneous groan. Instead of the typical “awww” that fans let out when an offensive rush doesn’t turn into a goal, this was an “ugh.” A fan also added, “C’mon, Val. That was pathetic.”
If I had to put money on it, this probably isn’t the first time that Dallas Stars fans openly voiced their frustration with no. 43 mid-game.
You see it on social media. You see it in the comments of various articles and posts on the Stars website. Fans are not pleased with Valeri Nichushkin. Heck, they’ve even started a website putting his goal drought in the spotlight.
Let’s backtrack to the 2018 offseason for a moment. In early June, a report surfaced that Nichushkin was interested in returning to the Stars and the NHL. This report came after Nichushkin spent the previous two seasons playing in the KHL in Russia.
The 23-year-old was initially drafted by the Dallas Stars at 10th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Once labeled by Jaromir Jagr as a player “with the tools to become the best player in the world,” Nichushkin had a decent rookie year with 14 goals and 34 points.
After that, it was a downhill slope. He missed most of the 2014-15 season while recovering from hip surgery and followed it up with a nine-goal, 29-point campaign in 2015-16. Then, upon being unable to come to terms on a new contract with Dallas, Nichushkin headed for Russia on a two-year contract.
But, after eyeing a return this past summer and the Stars in need of offensive depth, the sides agreed on a two-year contract with an AAV of $2.95 million.
The plan seemed set for Nichushkin to thrive behind a new contract and fresh start under a new coaching staff.
Through the first 55 games of the year, however, that plan has yet to pan out. In fact, it hasn’t even really left the ground.
In 39 starts this season, Nichushkin has no goals, seven assists, and a -5 on-ice rating. His average time on ice has dropped to 12:26, the lowest of his career, and averages only 1.31 shots per game. 40 hits, 24 blocked shots, and 23 giveaways.
“He’s had plenty of opportunities to have at least five goals this year, it just hasn’t gone in,” said Stars coach Jim Montgomery before the game against the Wild. “It’s hard. We try not to talk about results with him. We talk about the process and Vernon Fiddler has done a great job working on getting him to those areas and working on tips, screens, and [wraparounds].”
And, here we are. Nichushkin has been unnoticeable in most contests this season, is being outplayed by rookie forwards Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz for a spot in the starting lineup, and has quickly assumed the label of “preferred healthy scratch.” He also is not helping a struggling Dallas offense put goals on the board.
“He needs to look the same as other people do,” Montgomery added. “We consistently have to be penetrating the middle of the ice inside the dots and we need to be stopping at nets and have balance and have a triangle in the offensive zone with our forwards. He needs to understand that he’s going to score goals from the hashmarks to the goal line and the blue paint. That’s where he needs to be in order to have success.”
Seems simple enough, right? And yet, Nichushkin cannot seem to get it down. He and Justin Dowling are the only forwards to not score a goal with the Dallas Stars this season. The difference between the two? Dowling played in six games.
Erik Condra (six games), Martin Hanzal (seven games and currently on IR), and Andrew Cogliano (nine games) have all scored more goals in a Dallas uniform this year than Nichushkin. Even defensemen Roman Polak, Connor Carrick, and Gavin Bayreuther have found the back of the net more.
It’s a challenging situation that can seriously weigh on the conscience of a player as the season rages on. Coming into the year, the initial hope was that Nichushkin could score 10-15 goals and provide some much-needed depth. He’s not even close to that at this point.
Now, he’s provided some help in other areas. Nichushkin has played a solid defensive game and has provided some nice offensive setups and assists. But, he was signed to help with the scoring issue and has not done so yet. And, considering he’s only played in four games over the past month and has posted only three points since Nov. 12, he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.
On Tuesday night, Nichushkin will slot back into the lineup as the Dallas Stars take on the Florida Panthers. He’ll take the spot of Denis Gurianov and play on the fourth line with Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa. It will be his 40th start of the season and will once again offer him a chance to build towards offensive consistency. That starts with proper positioning in the offensive zone, using his size and reach to protect the puck on zone entries, and making timely decisions when the puck is on his stick.
It’s a process and is one that seems to be slowly grinding along for the Russian winger. Will it eventually pan out? Or could Nichushkin’s struggles push his future with Dallas further into question?
His next opportunity to progress forward and keep his spot in the lineup comes on Tuesday night in Sunrise.