Let’s go back to 1989-90, Mike Modano’s rookie year.
That season Mike was just 19 and compiled an impressive 29 goals and 75 points for the Minnesota North Stars. He was the most talented young freshman in the league but shockingly was not ‘Rookie of the Year’. No, that honor went to 31-year-old Sergei Makarov.
Say what Razor?!
Oh, you heard me right. Sergei Makarov; he of the Challenge Cup, three Super Series, three Canada Cups, three Olympic Games, and seven World Championship titles. A world class transplant from the Soviet Red Army Team where he played ‘pro’ for 11 years on the famed K-L-M line. Makarov, a player approaching the 9th hour of his hockey career named ‘rookie’ of the year in the NHL thanks to his 24 goals, 86 points and the then farcical nature of the National Hockey League.
Hardware Larceny, indeed.
Just how robbed did Modano get? Well, following the embarrassment of naming Makarov over Mike, the league changed criteria for Rookie of the Year to state (among other things) that a player had to be age 26 or younger to be eligible.
So we fast-forward 24 years and begin to make the case for the Calder (Rookie of the Year) for a current Stars rookie.
Valeri Nichushkin, ironically a young Russian born in Chelyabinsk where Makarov played Junior hockey, has certainly played like a Calder hopeful over the past month. Since November 1, the 18-year-old right winger has racked up 14 points in 15 games and just became the first Stars rookie since 1997 to be in on four goals in a game.
Nichushskin, who G.M. Jim Nill made the 10th overall pick in a bold move in this past summer’s draft, is rare in that he is a bull-strong forward at a very young age. Oh he’ll still fill out (which is frightening), but right here right now he can more than hold his own with the MEN of the planet’s best hockey league, just months after being named Rookie of the Year in the KHL.
He combines that strength with a powerful skating stride, orangutan-like reach and a fierce desire to do well - really well. This kid sets his personal bar of expectation higher than the spires atop the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Saint Petersburg (top notch Russian reference by me).
When he was floundering, frustrated and made a healthy scratch five games into the season, the many who had picked Val to be a finalist for Rookie of the Year appeared, well, optimistically misguided. But the kid just keeps getting better. He’s surely back on the watch list now.
If he stays on the same trajectory, he’s gonna finish with somewhere around 60-70 points, and stats don’t tell the whole story with him. He hits, he steals pucks, he’s learned to work and play defense (all be it spotty at times, but remember, he’s 18). In a nutshell, Nichushkin is gradually becoming a complete package - check that, not a nutshell - a Russian nesting doll. Yes, cause there seems to always be a little more to discover when it comes to this fabulously talented young Dallas Star.
If he were to capture the Calder as Rookie of the Year in the NHL he’d be the first in franchise history to do so, righting a wrong from 24 years ago. If he doesn’t - no worries, he’s already surpassed the incredibly forgettable four games Sergei Makarov played for the Stars in 1996.