"I am Val Nichushkin."
And so he is. But what does that mean?
No. 11 on our countdown brings us to perhaps the most mysterious member of the Dallas Stars this season in young Valeri Nichushkin. NO. 11 could represent the low-end where the resumption of lofty expectations for the Russian is concerned. It could also, given his absence for 73 games last season, be quite high on the impact scale.
It's just hard to say right now.
The unbridled optimism on this shiny penny is diminished, certainly. What's left is curiosity. And not much time. This is the last year of what most had presumed to be tremendous value. His ELC expires in June, and the Stars have 82 games to figure out what they have here.
His rookie season saw a slow start after a stellar camp, but regular dalliances with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn boosted his point total despite up-and-down stretches and apparent fatigue as the season wore on. Consistency was what his critics sought most as he turned in dazzling 20-minute stretches followed by passages of anonymity.
The season after was negated almost entirely by bone-spurs and a hip surgery in early October that all but erased his entire campaign. A cheap year of Nichushkin went up in smoke with it, but a healthier version with a greater understanding of the language and his teammates returns for 2015-2016.
His impact on the team will be a function of his health, maturity, growing understanding (the Stars hope) of the game, and where he plays.
That's where it gets a little interesting.
On the surface Brett Ritchie's injury would figure to portend extensions on the playing time of many younger pieces on Jim Nill's roster- But Val was probably a consideration for the top-six after he returns to form anyway. Patrick Sharp's addition may be more of a factor on Nichushkin's upcoming year.
Between the possibility (at home) of reuniting the "super-line" of Benn, Seguin, and Spezza, that same combination on the power play, and now a chance that Patrick Sharp actually tries things at RW with Seguin, Val's prospects are not what they once were.
Good for the Stars- Perhaps not so for Nichushkin, but the added depth assures of him competency up and down the lineup with which to combine wherever he lands. A switch to left wing might be in the cards with Ales Hemsky occupying the right side with Jason Spezza, seemingly.
Either way, it gives Lindy Ruff options. The depth may mitigate Nichushkin's overall ability to impact Dallas' season, but it's an opporunity for both team and player to use the circumstances to their advantage, culminating in a possible extension of their professional relationship as he transitions to RFA status next summer.
Or, you know, he could blow up and go for 26 goals this season. Anything is possible with such a young wild card coming off major surgery.
Either way, the Russian factor (so called) appears to be a non-issue. He's spent extended time in Frisco and DFW by all reports, he is speaking and understanding English better than ever, and that will bring him closer to his teammates- Or more importantly, his coaching staff.
It's time for Val to take the next step. Sergei Gonchar helped him along in his rookie year but he's now gone, and who knows? With Denis Guryanov in the fold it could be sooner than you think that it's Val taking the lead role on the mentor-front.
A new beginning for the 20 year-old this year, yes, but because of the injury, nearly one-year absence, and expiring contract, the intrigue, excitement, and on some occasions skepticism, will be just as great as they were in 2013.
And now, national TV broadcasters butchering his first name...