Ahead of Stars training camp opening next month in Boise, SportsDay is looking at 10 questions the team faces as it tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. This season will be the first under new coach Jim Montgomery, who inherits a team that racked up 92 points.
Here is the fourth question of the series.
How different is Valeri Nichushkin his
second time around with the Stars?
One of the biggest (if not the biggest) offseason additions for the Stars could be a familiar face. Former first-round pick Valeri Nichushkin is back in Dallas after spending two seasons in Russia’s KHL and signing a two-year, $5.9 million contract with the Stars this summer.
He returns to the NHL as a 23-year-old winger, five years removed from when he debuted with the Stars as highly touted 18-year-old prospect. Nichushkin carries the key to unlocking Dallas’ secondary scoring that it desired last season, when it missed the playoffs by three points.
Nichushkin ÂÂÂ– a 6-foot-4 power forward who could fit seamlessly into coach Jim Montgomery’s puck-possession style — is penciled into the Stars lineup on the second line with Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza. But predicting Spezza’s future is murky, given his poor output last season, and Janmark has averaged about 30 points a season when healthy.
If Nichushkin is able to jump-start the second line and turn the Stars into a team with two dangerous offensive lines, the composition of the team looks much different, as do its power play units. (It also could allow Montgomery to keep the fun and dominant top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov together.)
He flashed potential in his first NHL stint. Nichushkin registered 14 goals and 20 assists as a rookie in 2013-14, and posted another 29 points in 2015-16. With CSKA Moscow the past two seasons, he totaled 27 goals and 24 assists in 86 games.
Nichushkin won’t be the only Russian on the Stars to have left the NHL, only to return a few years later. Radulov did the same earlier in his career. After he was a first-round pick of Nashville, Radulov spent two seasons in the NHL before retreating to the KHL for the next eight.
When Radulov returned in 2016-17 with Montreal, he was solid, but he took a huge step last year in his first season with Dallas. Radulov set career highs in both goals and assists, providing a lethal complement to Benn and Seguin.
Sometimes, KHL imports pay off (Radulov and Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov). Other times, they don’t (Vegas’ Vadim Shipachyov).
The Stars are hoping Nichushkin returns a more mature player than he was as a teenager, and he should have someone to relate to off the ice in both Radulov and goaltender Anton Khudobin. The only Russian on the Stars roster during Nichushkin’s first stint was Sergei Gonchar.