Valeri Nichushkin isn't really going to have to worry about a 'sophomore slump'. His second season in the National Hockey League has been basically non-existent, as he had surgery on his hip that has sidelined him for much of the year.
After a conditioning stint with the Texas Stars last week, the dynamic Russian forward is returning to the Dallas Stars lineup for the last five games of the season.
Nichushkin's offensive production wasn't exactly missed by the Stars this year, with guys like Jason Spezza, Cody Eakin and Patrick Eaves (to name a few) there to fill that hole. The Stars offense ranks second this season with 3.05 goals per game on average, only trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning's gaudy 3.18 goals per game average.
What the Stars did miss was the puck possession, play making and size of Nichushkin. There were plenty of games where you wanted that one guy that just rushes the net or plants himself in front to wreak havoc on the opposition. That was often what Nichushkin brought to the table last season.
Upon Nichushkin's arrival back in the lineup, there's bound to be some line juggling happening from what we've seen recently rolled out by the Stars. Here's a few options they could roll with through the end of the season.
Option 1: Shelter From the Storm
In this scenario, we would see Nichushkin's minutes sheltered and limited. He would get minimal time on the power play, playing mainly at even strength in limited minutes so as not to re-aggravate or re-injure. Forward lines could look something like this:
Option 2: (Re)Ignite the Light and Let it Shine [alternative name: Firework]
This scenario would reunite the Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin trio. With Seguin's injury limiting him from playing center right now, we'd see Benn play these last handful of games at center instead. We'd want to see if this trio still has the chemistry that made them so potent last season so we know what holes we might need to be contemplating filling for next year. Nichushkin could get some looks on the first power play unit in this scenario as well.
Option 3: Here Comes the Sun
In this scenario, we're getting generally the look at the top six that most people envisioned at the beginning of the season. Nichushkin's tendency to go to the front of the net and "bull in a China shop" possession style could maybe open up Hemsky's offensive game more (or so the thought goes, anyway). Nichushkin gets a slot back on the top power play unit.
What do you think the lines will look like? How would you draw them up for these last few games to close out 2015?