Valeri Nichushkin is one of the most exciting players in the draft and is absolutely the most dynamically gifted winger that will be selected in a few weeks. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, he is a physically imposing power forward with room left to grow and add strength, and many feeling he's primed to be a breakout superstar in the NHL sooner than later.
What makes him stand out above all others is his incredible skating ability, a powerful and speedy stride that constantly has defenders on their heels trying to keep up with him. His speed along the wing is a wonder to behold, as well as the insane control he possesses with the puck on his stick at these speeds. He has a good shot and a decent shot from distance, but the real danger comes when he gets in tight and around the net -- his ability to make defenders and goaltenders miss will have Nichushkin on the highlight reels for years to come.
Playing 15 with Chelyabinsk of the KHL this past season, there was a legitimate concern about whether teams should take the chance of drafting Nichushkin high in the draft. With the promise of a large paycheck and a role in the top league in Russia, there was a fear not only would it be tough to persuade him to come to the NHL but that his contract in the KHL would prevent such a transfer.
After a trade to Dynamo, however -- apparently against his wishes -- Nichushkin has made it known he intends to play in North America next season. The caveat, however, is that he'll only play in the NHL -- this is not a player interested in spending time in the AHL adapting to the North American game.
As dynamic as he is with the puck, there are some concerns about some areas of his play. His ability to move through the defense so effortlessly on a larger sheet of ice has raised concerns with how he would fare in the tighter spaces in the NHL, as well as his perceived reluctance to move the puck to teammates. There's no doubt that he likes to create much of his own offense, but there is certainly a level of hockey sense and intelligence there that his playmaking from the wing might not be that much of a concern.
Interestingly, his numbers in the KHL don' exactly turn one's head too sharply.
|2011-2012||Belie Medvedi (MHL)||38||4||6||10||-10||6|
Despite the lack of stats, Nichushkin is generally regarded as a locked-in top five pick in this draft and a likely star in the NHL for some time to come. Scouts across the board are effusive in their praise for Nichushkin, and the only debate left is just where in the top 10 he'll fall when it comes time for teams to make their decision.
Corey Pronman, Hockey Prospectus (Ranked No. 4)
Nichushkin is an impressive power forward who has a ton of natural gifts. He could be a potential star, if not an elite power winger in the NHL. His best skill is his skating ability, as he is a true plus-plus skater that defensemen need to respect when he's barreling down the wing. If a gap gets too tight, Nichushkin will likely be behind the defender in no time. He is also a strong, 6'4'' pillar who loves to drive to the net. Combining that with his speed and skill, he draws a lot of penalties. Nichushkin's north-south game is his strength, but he has a high level of ability with the puck, with the capability to make players miss. He can make plays to his teammates, and he has good offensive instincts, although his hockey sense is an area of division among scouts. Some question his vision, feeling he can be a little selfish. Others think his hockey sense is above average. He has the ability to skate through an entire team, so it cannot be considered surprising that he tries to do a lot. One area of concern: he needs to improve his defensive play.
HockeyProspect.com Draft Guide (Ranked No. 4)
Valeri has tremendous size and has an effective skating ability that can best be compared to Alex Galchenyuk's or Evgeni Malkin's skating style where all are big bodied and have a crouched down skating style. All three have deceptive speed to go with their size. Valeri protects the puck and will fearlessly drive the net. Despite his size he is surprisingly elusive and can utilize his hands and some moves to evade checkers and score some absolutely beautiful goals. His physical game has grown a bit over the last few years he's more willing to give and receive hits than he used to be and makes him much more effective. It's still not a big part of his game, but his comfort level is increasing. Valeri is more of a goal scorer and has a shot that is already better than the average NHL players shot and will allow him to score right away in the league. He prefers to shoot the puck way over passing it, which actually results in Valeri having a deceptive ability to pass the puck and create plays. We've watched moments where he simply didn't have a shooting lane, sometimes he will force it, but when he passes he completes some moderately difficult passes tape to tape. Valeri is intelligent with his positioning.
International Scouting Services (Ranked No. 4)
Nichushkin is a phenomenal talent who has seen his stock fall and rise quickly all year long. He isn't your typical Russian offensive dynamo as he plays an intense two-way game and shows fantastic will to win in big games. He has great size and knows how to use it well to protect the puck. He is very strong on his skates and also has the quickness to burn opponents the second he gets them off balance. Nichushkin has eyes in the back of his head and is always in the right place to make a play but also always seems to be one step ahead of everybody else and very rarely hesistates to attack a situation when he identifities it.