The Dallas Stars weren’t expecting to get a top-three talent with the 10th overall pick at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
But, according to GM Jim Nill, that’s exactly what they got in Valeri Nichushkin.
“We were excited. I think it’s no secret, everybody had him as one of the top three players in the draft,” Nill told the Stars website. “If he was playing [Canadian junior hockey] somewhere in Moose Jaw or Peterborough, he probably would have been a top-three pick. There is risk with the Russian factor, everybody knows that.”
The “Russian factor” reared its head earlier this month when Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the Devils by retiring with 14 years and $77 million left on his deal. He cited the desire to return to his native Russia and play in front of family in the country’s top domestic league, the KHL, as two of his major reasons for walking away.
In addition to Kovalchuk, Winnipeg’s Alex Burmistrov also returned to Russia this summer, as did Nashville’s Sergei Kostitsyn (though, to be accurate, Kostistyn is Belarusian and returned to the KHL, not his home country.)
Ruslan Fedotenko — who is Ukrainian — also left the NHL to sign with HC Donbass, a KHL team located in his native country.
So it’s no surprise Nill was very cognizant of the risks involved with drafting Nichushkin, one of the most highly-touted Russian prospects in years (and one that played in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk last season.)
The Dallas GM does have a way to entice Nichushkin to head to North America, though — the opportunity to play in the NHL next season.
Physically, he’s ready,” Nill said of Nichushkin. “He’s a man already.
“Where we were picking, he was a player we couldn’t pass on. There was just too much there.”