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Dallas Stars Morning Skate: Valeri Nichushkin Looks Ready, Kari Lehtonen Apparent Starter

An illness for Shawn Horcoff means the Stars will have three new forwards in the lineup tonight, including the long-awaited return of Valeri Nichushkin from hip surgery.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rev up your train whistles and puns - Valeri Nichushkin looks set to return to the Dallas Stars tonight after missing four months recovering from hip surgery.

Nichushkin was on the fourth line for a morning skate where the Stars only had 12 healthy forwards, a pretty clear sign that he will be in the lineup tonight against the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center.

Nichushkin last played for the Stars on November 6th, and he only played four games this season before being shut down for hip surgery. During his stint with the Texas Stars on a conditioning assignment, he had three points, all assists, in three games, though all of those came on one night.

"It's a very hard time in my life for sure. because you sit home, watch games that (you don't) play," Nichushkin said. "I forget it now because I will play now and I think now about summertime. I don't know what I will do, but I need to be ready for next season too."

Nichushkin has put in a lot of work to be able to conduct interviews in English without a translator, and he's come a very long way as evidenced in the video from today's morning skate.

You get the sense Tyler Seguin has been giving him a hard time in that way that teammates do to young kids. Nichushkin seems to be taking it well.

Horcoff also missed Thursday's practice, and Ruff told the assembled media that he was not expected to be able to play tonight. That meas the Stars will have three new bodies - Nichushkin, Travis Moen and Colton Sceviour - inserted into the lineup.

While those three worked together on a line at the skate, Ruff mentioned he's likely to move them around tonight based on the situation.

"I'm just going to judge on how they play," Ruff said. "I've got options on where I can play them. There's no guarantee they're going to start together or even finish together. I think at times, after special teams, I'm going to utilize some different pieces and go back to a couple looks from last year."

On the defensive side, Jordie Benn, who has missed the last two games with back soreness, practiced Thursday but was seemed to be more involved as an extra at today's morning skate. Here's how Heika saw it:

The "rookie with veteran" pairings continue.

Both Heika and Stepneski reported that Kari Lehtonen was the first goalie off the ice for Dallas, pointing to him as the presumptive starter even though he had a rough second period in his last outing against the Calgary Flames.