Valeri Nichushkin is perhaps one of the most interesting prospects in the 2013 NHL Draft class.
He spent this season playing for KHL powerhouse Chelyabinsk Traktor, proving that even as a 17-year-old he could handle the pace and demands of the professional game. At the World Junior Championships, Nichushkin scored a phenomenal goal to capture the bronze medal in overtime against a stacked Canadian team.
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Nichushkin possesses pro-style size at 6-foot-4 and weighing in around 200 lbs., pretty much the size of your ideal NHL power forward with room to grow and has proven he can compete with the best in the game.
What makes Nichushkin’s skill set so interesting is that though he is a powerful big-body player, his skating ability matches the speed and swiftness of much smaller NHL players. On the physical side, he is not afraid to throw his body around and knock opposing players off the puck. On the skating and scoring side, Nichushkin possesses incredible talent and potential. His ability to dangle defensemen, weave into the zone, set up shop and blast the puck makes him an incredibly difficult player to defend.
Not only can he shoot the puck extremely well, he often goes in to pick up his own rebounds, creates chaos in front of the net and makes the second or third effort needed to put the puck in the net. He also draws a lot of penalties because he is so difficult to defend.
Nichushkin finished the 2012-13 season ranked second overall by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters, and no one truly knows where he will fall in the draft order. His KHL contract makes teams uneasy, but he has declared his intent to play in the NHL this season. Is it a gamble with upside? Sure, but it may be a chance that several teams might not want to take. However, his skill set is extremely rare and would be a welcome addition to any NHL team, so it will be interesting to see where he goes.
Here's a brief scouting report on Nichushkin from NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb:
“He’s a big, strong player with a high overall skill set. He can score the big goals and can dominate games … he’s very skilled and talented and, by far, the best Russian available in the draft this year.”
Season GP G A Pts +/- PIM
2012-13 18 4 2 6 6 0