If Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin continues to impress coach Lindy Ruff with his effective combination of speed and power, the likelihood of him soon moving up to the top line to play with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin will go up.
"It's a good possibility that if he's going that well, to put a bigger body there, a guy that can hang onto the puck, a guy who can physically dominate," Ruff said. "It worked really well in [Nichushkin's rookie season] and it's a real good possibility that you'll see it again."
Right Wing - DAL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 29 | +/-: 3
Nichushkin fared well with Benn and Seguin as a rookie two seasons ago, when he put up 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games, and Seguin and Benn each had a breakout season.
He missed all but eight games last season because of hip surgery and was off to a slow start this season as he tried to work his way back into the speed of the game.
Ruff thinks Nichushkin is close to being all the way back now.
"He's dominating sometimes on the puck, he's in on one or two good scoring chances, and he has made some plays on goals that only a big man can make," Ruff said. "I've really liked the way he's played."
The proof has come in some of the plays he has made of late that have resulted in goals, either for him or a teammate.
Nichushkin has two goals in the past five games after going without a goal in the first 12. He was a healthy scratch twice. Each of his goals was scored from the slot after he used his speed and strength to make a power move that created the opening to get the puck to the net.
He also had an assist on a goal from defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 3 because he sped around and outmuscled defenseman Zdeno Chara to set up the one-timer for Jokipakka from the point.
"There seems to be a play or two a game that show that he's strong on the puck, his quickness is back, and he's really skating well," Ruff said. "I feel I still have him in a lighter role, he's not on either special teams, but he's working his way back toward maybe getting on our second power play, and I've even touched on some penalty-killing time."
Next up will be time on the top line with Benn and Seguin. If Nichushkin keeps it up, his time will come soon.