Valeri Nichushkin not a line during first run through, so he could be a scratch tonight.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) October 13, 2015
So here's the thing.
Valeri Nichushkin is unquestionably a very talented, 20-year-old hockey player. He has, however, started off the season playing like a 20-year-old rather than the beyond-his-years talent that made him a first-round draft pick in 2013. There are certainly observable habits in his game at the moment, most notably his "loopiness" in the routes through the defensive and offensive zones, that would make any coach crazy.
Here I'd like to refer you to Justin Bourne, veteran of the ECHL and AHL who has written extensively about hockey tactics and habits at the higher levels. While many of his extremely informative Systems Analyst articles were lost in the great The Score purge of their archives, one thing he's consistently talked about is the necessity for upper-echelon players to start and stop on a play rather than wheel through.
Here's at least one reference to the role of the winger specifically. You'll just have to trust me that he's mentioned this repeatedly in articles that are no longer with us.
As Bourne has written, stopping and starting with the play rather than looping through is all about effort, which is exactly the sort of thing coaches focus on when a player isn't performing well in other areas. And stopping and starting is how NHL-caliber players defend other NHL-caliber players (or fool other NHL-caliber defenders on the offensive side of the puck). Looping makes players slow to react on defense and easy to defend on offense.
Alternatively, if that's something you just don't see in Nichushkin's game at the moment, consider this the early-season Alex Goligoski memorial scratch designed to get a player who is clearly struggling (and has for much of the preseason and camp) a different perspective on the game so that he can mentally reset.
With Nichuhskin as the extra man, here are the lines the Stars ran at morning skate:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Jason Spezza - Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark - Cody Eakin - Ales Hemsky
Travis Moen - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour
While Hemsky on the third line may seem like an interesting choice given his fast start to the season, there's an intriguing chemistry with Janmark that the coaching staff obviously wants to continue to foster. Also, if that duo clicks with Eakin, it looks like a very strong two-way checking line on paper, as both Janmark and Hemsky have reputations as solid defensive players as well as scoring threats.
In a bit of an amusing aside, the relatively high expectations for this season, the poor performance against the Avalanche and apparent scratch of Nichushkin had everyone at the AAC this morning watching closely, and when Sharp stayed out late after his teammates went in, there was a brief period of speculation that he might be a scratch either as well as or in place of Nichushkin.
But Occam's razor wasn't in play here - Sharp got a new batch of sticks and apparently skates late after most practices as a matter of course, so the only consequence to his staying out late was a five-minute freak out on Twitter.
On the defensive side of the puck, the pairings were the same as they'd been in for the first two games of the season - Goligoski with John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya with Jason Demers, Jordie Benn with Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak with Patrik Nemeth.
As expected, Kari Lehtonen was the first goalie off the ice and should make his season debut tonight. He had a rough preseason (and that's putting it mildly), and the team will be looking for a solid outing from him tonight to erase those doubts.