Valeri Nichushkin played all of eight games for the Dallas Stars last season. Those eight games were evenly divided into four at the start of the season (October 19 through November 6) and four at the very end (April 3 through April 11). In between the 19-year old sophomore underwent surgery to correct nagging hip and groin injuries. It was yet another bitter disappointment in a season that seemed, sometimes, written right out of the Angst 101 playbook.
Nuke burst on the scene in 2013/2014 as an 18-year old under the often over-applied "Enigmatic Russian" cloud. In training camp, rumors surfaced the young winger would not accept an AHL assignment, but instead, would opt to play in his native KHL if the Stars did not feel he was ready for the NHL. Stars fans did not know it at the time, but would learn very quickly that such concerns were entirely unnecessary.
It wasn't just that Big Val finished ninth in rookie scoring (14 goals, 20 assists, 34 points), it was the way he fit into the overall squad. Nichushkin immediately demonstrated the hockey IQ to play alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. He also possessed a positional acumen beyond his years (53.2 CF%). Sure, he seemed to lead the league in near-misses (lift the puck, Val!), but he sure did look the part of a big time NHL forward.
Great things were expected in 2014/2015, as Val would be an integral part of a much-improved Dallas forward group. Instead, injuries rendered any discussion of his abilities, role, or progress entirely moot. Two four game stretches on either side of an injury is hardly enough time to make a definitive judgment.
On the positive side of the ledger, Val's four game cameo to end the year looked very similar to last season. The burly winger's burst appeared to be back, and he certainly flashed enough to stoke the fires of optimism once again. Throw in the fact he's still just 19 years old, and although it is not ideal, a year of lost development is not the end of the world. He's been through the grind of recovery now, there are professional lessons to learn from that.
On the negative side, he did waste a year. Valeri Nichushkin remains a contributor in theory more than in fact. His playmaking ability should continue to mesh well with Seguin and Benn, and also presents a tantalizing compliment to newcomer Jason Spezza. He could just as well continue to struggle to convert the chances he creates, and force us to recall one of the rookies ahead of him in 2013/2014 was Alex Chiasson.
That is to say it seems safe to pencil Nichushkin in as a valuable NHL-er, but we're still stuck waiting to see how much further past that he'll be able to reach.