The Dallas Stars made some big offseason moves in adding Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi, but when the Stars look at the 2015-16 roster, they see two more key additions. One of them is Valeri Nichushkin. The 20-year-old forward – along with defensemen Patrik Nemeth – missed most of last season due to injury.
“They are big parts of our team,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “We are adding them, too. That’s a bonus.”
Nichushkin was bothered by a hip injury and played only four games before going out in early November and then having surgery that sidelined him for four-and-a-half months. He returned in early April, playing in four of the Stars’ final five games.
But Nichushkin said the injury woes and the frustration of missing almost an entire season are now distant memory. Not really a memory at all.
“Everything feels so good now. I don’t feel pain anymore. It is great, and it makes me happy,” Nichushkin said after a recent skate with some of his teammates in Frisco. “I don’t think about [last season] anymore. I just forget about it and focus on the new season.”
The return of a healthy Nichushkin should be a big boost to the Stars’ group of top six forwards, which is expected to include Sharp, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky.
“If [Val] plays the way we all think he can and expect him to, then I don’t see too many teams that are better in the top six in the league,” said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi.
Nichushkin, the Stars’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2013, had a solid rookie season, registering 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games. He picked up a goal and an assist in six games during the 2014 playoffs. He played only eight games due to the injury in his second season, but it wasn’t a total loss. The young Russian spent another year getting acclimated to life in North America and working on his English, which has improved markedly. And it was another season of learning how to be a pro. Now, it appears he is healthy and ready to go for season three.
“He missed a whole season, so we want him to just get back playing,” Nill said. “Playing his game; skating, getting on pucks and forechecking. He’s got the skill. It’s going to come together. He’s just got to get back and stay healthy.”
As for Nichushkin, his focus is more on team goals than on individual ones.
“I just want my team to play good,” he said. “I don’t think about my statistics. I just want to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, if I score goals and get points it will help my team. That’s only what I want.”
After last season ended, Nichushkin spent some time at Russia’s World Championship camp but did not play at the tournament. After that, it was a quiet offseason for Nichushkin.
“Nothing much,” he said when asked what he did this summer. “I’ve been home in Russia.”
Nichushkin has been back in Dallas for a few weeks. He’s still waiting to meet his new teammates, but he did reach out to one of the newest members of the organization, 2015 first-round pick Denis Gurianov, who is also from Russia.
“I didn’t know him, but I talked with him after the draft. I texted him,” Nichushkin said. “He is a good guy. I think he is a really good hockey player. I think we will see him here in a couple seasons.”
Since he’s been back in Dallas, Nichushkin has been working out and last week he hit the ice in Frisco with some of his teammates for informal skates.
“Of course [it is good to be back out there]. It is fun,” he said. “More guys are coming every day. We already have around ten guys. It is good practice.”
And Nichushkin likes being around his teammates because that’s where he likes to keep his focus.
“I just hope the team is better this year,” Nichushkin said, “and we go to playoffs for sure.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.