The Colorado Avalanche are taking a gamble on Valeri Nichushkin. They signed the 24-year-old winger to a one-year, one-way deal worth $850,000, the team announced Monday.
Last season marked Nichushkin’s first NHL campaign with the Dallas Stars since 2015-16 (as a restricted free agent, he chose to sign overseas rather than return to the Stars). In 57 games, he failed to impress, going without a goal and putting up just 10 assists. He had a groin injury early on in the year and ultimately couldn’t live up to expectations or play any kind of top-6 role; he was scratched 16 times and appeared in just one postseason game.
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His lackluster play, as well as inconsistency and lack of scoring since entering the organization, led Dallas to buy out the final year of his contract early in the offseason; however, the Avs see potential in the 2013 10th-overall pick and could benefit from his presence.
“Valeri is a big, young winger who adds depth to our roster and brings competition to our training camp,” general manager Joe Sakic said in a team-issued press release. “He brings NHL experience to our team and we are excited to have him with our organization.”
Once carrying the potential to become a first-line winger, Nichushkin has seen a decline in his play. After impressing with a solid 14 goals and 34-point performance in his rookie campaign, he suffered a hip injury the following year which held him to only eight games (one point). After that, he managed just nine more goals in the final year of his entry-level deal in 2015-16 before deciding to sign with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow.
Overseas, he was able to register a combined total of 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games over the last two seasons, which included a 27-point campaign in 2017-18 topped off by a team-leading seven game-winning goals. However, none of that appeared to translate over to North America, where he struggled yet again and ultimately become a UFA.
So what do the Avalanche get out of signing him?
The 6-4, 210-pound forward brings a lot of size to the lineup and though he’s not the most physical, he’s able to make space for himself and his linemates and is not afraid to throw a hit when needed. Nichushkin is also a fast skater who can win 1-on-1 battles and make creative plays on the fly. Equipped with a heavy shot, he’s able to shoot from anywhere with a power forward’s mentality, which helps him crash the net and get to the right areas.
Joining Colorado may just be the right opportunity. He’s gotten much better defensively over time, is able to better handle the puck and carry it up ice – it just needs to be seen on a consistent basis. Regardless of whether or not he can find his touch with the Avalanche, the team will be just fine; they have plenty of depth on the wing, and their 3.15 goals per game last season ranked 10th in the league.
Ultimately, he’s a safe backup option – and may even win a spot in the lineup if he shows improvement in the preseason. The Avs have shown that they’ll take a chance on unproven, young wingers (Andre Burakovsky), and the kid has shown that he can play. A change of scenery may just be the answer, as seen before in the NHL, and there’s not really a downside to the deal. How he’ll stack up is a toss-up, but Colorado isn’t losing anything by signing a former first-rounder to a low-risk, inexpensive deal.
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