Whether we're talking fantasy or reality, Dallas Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin has a bright future ahead of him.
And glimpses of his promise are already evident this season.
The 18-year-old Russian has put together a three-game point streak after a slow start to the season (two points in his first 12 games). His patience in the offensive zone in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday allowed him to feed Rich Peverley for the game-winning goal.
Dallas Stars rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin has a bright future ahead of him and deserves fantasy consideration while his ownership is low. (Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI)
Nichushkin has compiled 20 shots, 22 hits and an even rating in 15 games. He hasn't hit anything close to full stride, but is still finding a way to play aggressively and use his 6-foot-4 frame to make an impact. For deep-league fantasy owners, it's always important to stay active and buy low on readily available players with high ceilings, like Nichushkin.
At this point, Nichushkin is an enigma. That said, we're not even a quarter of the way into the 2013-14 season. There's ample time for him to continue to grow and have his role with the team become more defined. For NHL rookies, the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Erik Cole and Peverley have each spent time early on this season with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but it's been Nichushkin (owned in five percent of Yahoo leagues) who has seen more top-line action at even-strength lately.
For Dallas coach Lindy Ruff to place a rookie in a primary role, he's obviously aware of Nichushkin's upside and has a level of trust in his game. If that wasn't the case, Nichushkin would not have been handling the puck in overtime with the game on the line Thursday. But with the highs have also come the lows, such as when Ruff temporarily bumped Nichushkin (1:40 of power-play time on ice per game) off the power-play unit on Thursday.
The bottom line is Ruff is making sure his players are not complacent. With the exception of the team's tight-knit second line of Ray Whitney, Cody Eakin and Alex Chiasson, the offense is still a work in progress. But on the bright side, the Stars are 8-6-2 and finally holding their ground on the road.
So where does Nichushkin, the team's 2013 first-round draft pick, fit into the long-term equation? Time will tell, and that's the fun part. He's in Dallas to stay this season, coping well with the roller-coaster ride of a rookie season and very much a part of the club's offensive mix moving forward.