Valeri Nichushkin is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center. Nichushkin has been out of the lineup since early November due to a hip injury that required surgery. The injury has limited him to just four games this season.
“It’s been a very hard time in my life,” Nichushkin said. “You sit home and watch games and don’t play. Everybody played. I forget it now because I will play.”
Nichushkin went out of the lineup Nov. 6 and underwent surgery in New York on Nov. 18. Then it was rehab and a lot of hard work to get to this point.
“I work every day, a lot of exercises every day,” Nichushkin said. “After the first month, I come to Dallas and start to skate easy, bike every day. Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning.”
Nichushkin is coming off a three-game conditioning stint with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. He played in three games, picking up three assists.
“Felt very good. I think it was good conditioning,” Nichushkin said. “Coach gave me too much time to play and I am ready to play in the NHL now.”
The three assists came in his third and final game, a 7-4 Texas win over Adirondack on Wednesday. Nichushkin said don’t read too much into that.
“I am not sure it was my best game of the three games,” he said. “I think I played better the first two games but my teammates helped me in the third game pick up points.”
The 20-year-old Nichushkin, Dallas’ first round pick (tenth overall) pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, is in his second NHL season. He registered 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games in 2013-14, his rookie season.
“We’ve missed his size,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “For the most part, [Tyler] Seguin, [Jamie] Benn and Val were a good line. He was the guy that was able to hang onto pucks down low and physically dominate some teams. He can come off the walls in the offensive zone and make plays, which is one of his strongest suits. And I felt by the end of the year one of our best defenders. Coming back hard, tracking back hard and defending. He really made a commitment to playing that side of the game.”
Nichushkin skated on a line with Colton Sceviour and Travis Moen this morning. Ruff indicated that may not be what he rolls out tonight but if it is, Nichushkin said he and Moen should have some chemistry.
“Because we skated for two months together,” Nichushkin said. “I think we have real good communication. We will see tonight.”
Stars Watch: Horcoff still sick
Stars forward Shawn Horcoff, who missed Thursday’s practice due to illness, did not skate this morning, and it appears he won’t play tonight. He appears doubtful for Saturday’s game in Nashville as well.
“The latest is it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to play [tonight],” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “He was still pretty sick today, that makes tomorrow probably pretty doubtful too.”
Travis Moen will be back in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 17. He’s missed the past 20 games, the first 15 with an upper-body injury and the past five as a healthy scratch. Colton Sceviour will be back in after two games as a healthy scratch.
No changes are expected on defense. Jordie Benn, who is available to play after missing two games with a back injury, is expected to be the scratch on defense.
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so he is expected to start in goal tonight. It will be Lehtonen’s 12th consecutive start.
The Stars enter tonight’s game six points out of the final playoff spot with five games remaining. Los Angeles moved into the second wild-card spot in the West last night with an 8-2 win over Edmonton. The Kings and Winnipeg are tied at 90 points, but the Kings own the first tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins), 36-32.
Brian Elliott is expected to start in goal tonight for the Blues. St. Louis played last night, clinching a playoff spot with a 4-1 win over Calgary. Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen both missed last night’s game with lower-body injuries. Both are listed as day to day.
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Tyler Seguin
Patrick Eaves – Jason Spezza –Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Ryan Garbutt
Travis Moen – Colton Sceviour – Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Patrik Nemeth – Trevor Daley
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jason Demers
Scratched: Jordie Benn
Injured: Shawn Horcoff (illness)
Blues projected lineup
Jaden Schwartz – Paul Stastny – T.J. Oshie
Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund
Olli Jokinen – Jori Lehtera – Ty Rattie
Steve Ott – Marcel Goc – Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Zbynek Michalek – Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman – Robert Bortuzzo
Injured: Alexander Steen (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body)
Scratched: Chris Butler, Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Porter
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.