Five games ago, Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff put his three most skilled forwards together to see what would happen. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin have been a revelation. The trio has held their own in tough outings lately and been utterly dominant against weaker competition like Calgary and Edmonton.
Most of the attention has gone to Benn and Seguin, and with reason. Seguin has seven points over those five games. Benn has eight points over the same span. Nichushkin has two points in that time but has looked absolutely phenomenal. The trio have meshed extremely well. They have speed, skill, and can bring a physical presence.
The physical presence mainly comes in the form of Benn being a bulldozer, but Nichushkin is a physical presence of his own. He is exceedingly difficult to dislodge from the puck against the boards with his big frame. The way he protects the puck is Jagr-esque. This physical presence and the breakneck speed the line is able to generate has them on a pretty good run lately.
Ruff put Nichushkin with Benn and Seguin five games ago in Edmonton. The table below shows Corsi events for and against for each of the three members of the line in that span at even strength. It then shows what the rest of the team has done during that time.
|Rest of Team||157||112||45|
Of the three, Nichushkin has the highest Corsi differential. In these five games he has been a 61 percent Corsi player. Seguin and Benn are humming along at 58 percent and 57 percent respectively. All three are performing at very high levels, with Nichushkin grading out the highest. It's a very small sample, but he's 18. He shouldn't be doing this. Over the past five games, Nichushkin has been on the ice for 40 percent of the Stars even strength offense.
You can see his impact turn up when looking at WOWY analysis too. WOWY is essentially looking at how players perform with another player and without him. The chart below shows how Seguin and Benn have performed when on the ice with Nichushkin all season in terms of Corsi percentage and how they have fared without him.
Any number of ways that you look at it shows a definite impact with Nichushkin on the ice. The production from that line isn't solely from the greatness of Seguin and Benn. The duo is certainly great, but Nichushkin adds another layer. He draws coverage, yet he is strong enough to still make dazzling plays with the puck.
Two plays from the loss to the Rangers specifically come to mind to illustrate what he brings. The first was later in the game with a Rangers defender (I think Dan Girardi) drilling him in the corner. Nichushkin held on to the puck for a good 10 seconds without getting pinned. He then turned up the boards and hit the opposite top of the faceoff circle with a perfect pass to generate a shot from the point.
The other play is an image I have already linked. This image was in the recap of the loss. Nichushkin is the man on the island surrounded by four Rangers.
Upon initial inspection, the situation looks grim for our Russian friend. You immediately question the decision-making that led him to be surrounded by four Rangers. The end of this play is a perfect flat pass right to Seguin's tape for a shot that just barely missed the top corner. Despite the traffic and despite the pressure, Nichushkin had the poise, skill, and confidence to make a hell of a pass to set Seguin's table.
He was able to draw heavy coverage from a team known for being defensively responsible. He tempted the Rangers to cover him this carefully without registering a point. The Rangers recognized what a load Nichushkin had been all night, overreacted, and left the best player on the ice wide open ten feet from their net.
This is the impact Nichushkin is having. The kid is dangerous. He draws coverage which opens up space for Benn and Seguin. And, most importantly, he generates offensive chances. They don't always go in yet, but he has begun elevating his shots in recent games. The time is going to come very soon when he is burying puck after puck, but right now he is being very effective creating space for his two world class linemates.
They, rightfully, get the lion's share of the glory, but don't ignore the contributions of the teenager.