CENTENNIAL, Colo.--You can forgive Valeri Nichushkin for being a little out of breath after his first practice with the Colorado Avalanche.
He crossed the world and had seemingly been going non-stop for the previous few days as he tried to get to his first Avs training camp.
While the rest of his new Colorado teammates reported on Thursday, Nichushkin was waiting in Russia for his immigration to get settled before he could enter the country. Finally on Friday morning, as his teammates were on the ice for the first time in the 2019-20 campaign, Nichushkin's papers were approved and he started the long trip to Denver.
Following 16-plus hours of travel and likely being a bit jet-lagged, the forward went through the team's mandatory medical and physical testing on Saturday morning and was finally cleared to practice on Day 3 of the Avalanche's on-ice activities on Sunday.
The No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, Nichushkin received a little ribbing from his new teammates upon his arrival but was excited to finally focus on hockey.
"I think the boys are great here. I think it's gone pretty well. Everybody asked why I came so late, but it was in fun," Nichushkin said to ColoradoAvalanche.com. "Not fun to have my passport take a while, so that is why I came late for camp. Practice was pretty fast, a little hard for me for the first day."
Video: Valeri Nichushkin on joining the Avalanche
His first skate was likely as expected for the Chelyabinsk, Russia, native. After traveling halfway across the globe, he took part in a fast-paced practice that has become a staple of Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar's training sessions.
Nichushkin also didn't have the benefit of adjusting to the lack of oxygen that comes with playing at a mile above sea level, or roughly 4,560 feet higher than his hometown--a drastic change that can make even the most-seasoned athlete huff and puff a bit more than usual. To combat that change, most players come to Colorado several weeks before camp to get their bodies adjusted for the increase in altitude. Nichushkin had less than 48 hours.
"Maybe because it's a little high [in altitude], it was a little hard to breathe, but it's fine," Nichushkin said following the hour-plus skate that included a mini scrimmage
The left wing's journey to Denver marks a fresh start and new opportunity for Nichushkin, who had played four years with the Stars. He had a strong rookie campaign in 2013-14, posting 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games before adding a goal and an assist in six playoff contests, but he got setback with injuries the following year.
He went back to his native Russia for two seasons from 2016-2018 and registered 27 goals and 24 assists in 86 total games with the CSKA Moscow and was named to the KHL All-Star Game in 2016-17. The Stars brought him back to North America last season, but Nichushkin only produced 10 points (10 assists) in 57 games and wasn't given a qualifying offer in the offseason, making him a free agent.
Looking for an opportunity to redeem himself in the NHL, the Avalanche was the team that took a chance on him, signing Nichushkin to a one-year contract on Aug. 19.
"Valeri is a big, young winger who adds depth to our roster and brings competition to our training camp," said Colorado general manager Joe Sakic at the time of the signing. "He brings NHL experience to our team and we are excited to have him with our organization."
Nichushkin appreciates the ability to continue to showcase his skills. He's looking to use his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame to battle for pucks down low and hopefully create more offensive success.
"First of all, I would like to help the team win more games," Nichushkin said. "Especially for me, I want to show my game, my strong sides [to my game].
"Last year, I want to forget it because it was probably an awful season. I look forward right now, and hopefully a new team like the Avalanche that I can show better hockey."
The journey to Colorado was tough, but Nichushkin's road to finding success in the NHL is only just beginning.