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NHL Three Stars: Nichushkin, Dahlin, Blackwood Impressed This Week

Adam Proteau highlights three NHLers who produced some quality performances this past week.
Valeri Nichushkin

Welcome back to THN.com’s Three Stars of the Week. As we did last season, every Sunday we’ll identify the NHL’s three best players of the past seven days. You don’t necessarily have to amass the most points (although that certainly won’t hurt) to be a candidate for one of the three stars, but you do have to stand out in one way or another. With that said, let’s start, in reverse order, with the best NHL talents from Oct. 16 to 22:

3. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey: After beginning the year with a 5-2 loss to the upstart Philadelphia Flyers, Blackwood stormed back this week with three wins in three games, a 1.33 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. 

The 25-year-old came into the year with additional competition for the Devils’ starting netminder position when they signed former Washington goalie Vitek Vanecek to a three-year, $10.2-million contract, but in a season in which another post-season miss would spell the end of coach Lindy Ruff’s tenure (if not sooner), it didn’t matter whether it was Blackwood or Vanecek stepping up – whichever of the two were getting wins would be the goalie New Jersey would go with.

Blackwood is in the final season of a three-year contract with an average annual salary cap hit of $2.8 million, but he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. In the unfolding era of more balanced goaltending tandems, the Devils will need solid production from Blackwood and Vanecek, but now that they’re on a three-game win streak, New Jersey has no reason to go back to Vanecek for the time being. Blackwood is looking terrific, and that’s all the news the Devils need.

2. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo: On Thursday, the Sabres’ defenseman set a new NHL record for blueliners for the longest season-opening goal streak, but the 22-year-old Swede wasn’t done there: Saturday night in Vancouver, Dahlin scored again to give him five goals in as many games, and he added an assist to give him eight points on the season. 

Now in his fifth NHL season, Dahlin is leading Buffalo in time on ice – at 24:26 of average ice time, he’s being used more than two minutes more than the next-most-used Sabre – and he plays in all situations.

Entering the season, much of the spotlight in Buffalo was centered around rookie D-man Owen Power, and rightfully so; he’s also going to be a minute-munching dominant force for Buffalo as he acclimates to the world’s best hockey league. But Dahlin is on course to demolish his personal bests on offense, and he’s showing significant progress and confidence as an all-around competitor. The longer he can be this effective, the better chance the Sabres have to defy the odds and earn a playoff berth.

1. Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado: The defending Stanley Cup-champion Avalanche have not gotten out to the best start to the season, going 2-2-1 in their first five games. But forward Nichushkin has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Avs this week, generating three goals and eight points in four games. 

The 27-year-old has contributed in all aspects of the game, posting an even-strength, power-play and shorthanded goal in that span and adding three even-strength assists, one power-play assist and one shorthanded assist in those four games.

Nichushkin is in Year 1 of his new, eight-year, $49-million contract extension with Colorado. With star winger Gabriel Landeskog sidelined for the next three months following knee surgery, Nichuskin is going to be looked to for more offense than he had last season when he scored a career-best 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games – and thus far this year, he’s intent on demonstrating last season was no fluke. 

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