Dallas Stars restricted free agent Valeri Nichushkin is heading to the KHL, and his signing of a two-year deal with CSKA Moscow was made official Tuesday. And while the move may have come as a shock to those believing the 21-year-old would remain in Dallas, Stars GM Jim Nill wasn’t caught off guard by Nichushkin’s decision.
At the Traverse City prospects tournament, Nill told Sean Shaprio that he wasn’t “going to be surprised” if Nichushkin signed in the KHL, adding Nichushkin’s agents knew exactly what Dallas was set to offer the Russian winger and that he wasn’t about to stop Nichushkin from signing with CSKA if that was his desire. As it turns out, that’s exactly what Nichushkin wanted to do, and the contract signing was announced Tuesday morning.
However, even before the official announcement was made, Nill was taking the possibility of Nichushkin leaving in stride.
“The good news is he’s 21 years of age, he’s going to play over there and keep developing,” Nill told Shapiro. “I just hope we get a more mature player when he decides to come back over. It’s not the end of the world.”
While under most circumstances a GM might not take so kindly to a young player with so much promise leaving the club, the situation is different when it comes to Nichushkin because his ability hasn’t yet caught up to that promise. Drafted 10th overall by the Stars in 2013, Nichushkin burst into the league 14-goal, 34-point rookie campaign, but he was used sparingly this past season after missing nearly all of 2014-15 with a hip injury. He mustered nine goals and 29 points this past season, but skated less than 14 minutes per game.
Nichushkin has also been passed on the depth chart by a handful of young players, too. Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa and Brett Ritchie were all set to challenge Nichushkin for ice time this coming campaign, and the off-season acquisition of Jiri Hudler also would have eaten into playing time for Nichushkin.
Nill’s taking the right approach with Nichushkin, too, because if he goes over to the KHL and develops further, that only serves to benefit the Stars if he returns following his two-year deal with CSKA. In two short years, Nichushkin could learn to use his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame better, could improve his skating and endurance on the big ice surface and could really come into his own as a player, all things that would have been more difficult in an environment in Dallas that is more ready to challenge for a Stanley Cup than they are to wait on the development of young players.
There’s also not a major cause for concern when it comes to Nichushkin getting out of the Stars’ grasps, either. Nill told Shapiro that the Stars will maintain Nichushkin’s NHL rights for another six seasons, or around the time Nichushkin would become an unrestricted free agent.
That keeps the door fairly open for Nichushkin to return, and Nill doesn’t sound opposed to welcoming the young Russian back in two years’ time.
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