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Stars' Nichushkin adapting to life on and off the ice

by Steve Hunt

FRISCO, Texas -- Valeri Nichushkin is only 18 years old and just 33 games into his NHL career, but the early returns for the Dallas Stars on the No. 10 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft are clearly encouraging.

Nichushkin, who has been skating on Dallas' top line alongside captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the past 16 games, is averaging a point per game in his last 10 contests (4-6-10) and has a plus-9 rating during that time.

He currently ranks second among rookies in assists with 12 and third in plus-minus at with a plus-12 rating.

His recent offensive surge illustrates just how quickly Nichushkin has adjusted to the NHL game. That higher comfort level on and off the ice has allowed him to better utilize his blend of speed, size and skating ability to benefit both himself and the Stars.

"I hope it's visible for everyone that the process is getting a little bit easier," Nichushkin said through a translator, Stan Tugolukov, Stars Player Development Coordinator, after practice on Friday. "I'm getting used to it."

Part of that adjustment includes learning English, a process that has been accelerated by living with a family in the Dallas area during the early part of his rookie campaign.

"[My English is] better and it's getting better every day. I understand more and more," Nichushkin said.

Before ever stepping on the ice in the NHL, he realized it was a League full of talented players who played a great brand of hockey. However, if there was one thing that surprised him about the NHL game, it was how physical the League actually is.

Of course, he did have a secret weapon to help ease his adjustment to not only living in a new country but also to playing in a new League. Russian defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who at 39 is an 18-year veteran of the NHL, is someone who knows firsthand what the transition to the North American game can be like.

"It's great to have him because if I've got any concerns or questions or need to ask advice, he's always there and he's always helping," Nichushkin said. "He's always giving me advice. His opinion is a big help. It's great to have him."

So far, Nichushkin has earned rave reviews from Stars coach Lindy Ruff, linemates Benn and Seguin and other members of the Dallas roster.

If there's one of his new teammates other than Gonchar who knows what he's going through, it is fellow rookie Alex Chiasson, who despite not skating on a line with Nichushkin at all this season, has developed a strong appreciation for what he currently means to the club and will mean to the organization going forward.

Valeri Nichushkin
Right Wing - DAL
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 18
SOG: 53 | +/-: 12
"He's been good. Just the fact that now he's more comfortable around the guys makes a big change in the way you play. But you can tell he's going to be a special player for this organization," Chiasson said. "He's got skills. He's got size. He can skate. His willingness to get better, it's awesome."

Not only is his fellow rookie impressed with the formidable skill set Nichushkin brings to the ice each day in practice and in games, his presence also helps motivate him to raise his game to an even higher level.

"I'm a couple years older than he is, but it still pushes me. He probably doesn't realize that, but he kind of challenges me to get better," Chiasson said. "We're both rookies and we compete against each other somehow."

The ultimate testament to how well Nichushkin is adjusting to life in the United States and the NHL, he recently moved out of the house he shared with a local family and is in the process of getting his own place so he can start living on his own.

"It was a great experience and even though I moved, we're still in contact," he said. "It's like my family. I'm happy that I met them. It was a great experience."

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