Under Pressure: Valeri Nichushkin

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

The first thing Valeri Nichushkin needs is a contract. The 21-year-old winger is still a restricted free agent, though he’s hardly alone in that regard. So are Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Nikita Kucherov, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jacob Trouba, and a bunch of other good, young NHLers.

Assuming something does get done prior to training camp — and it’s likely to be a one-year deal, according to Stars beat writer Mike Heika — the next thing Nichushkin will need is a shot of confidence, because it was a tough 2015-16 for the talented Russian.

Nichushkin finished the regular season with just nine goals and 20 assists in 79 games, then added just one assist in 10 playoff appearances. He was a healthy scratch a couple of times early on. Then, in March, comments he made to a Russian newspaper forced his agent to insist, “Val loves it in Dallas.”

On the bright side, Stars GM Jim Nill thought Nichushkin looked better as the season wore on. And to be fair to Nichushkin, he did most of 2014-15 with a hip injury.

“We thought the last five games of the playoffs, he really started to look like himself,” Nill said. “He started to dominate down low and in the corners. He is only 21. I know there’s still lots of room for growth, so we’re going to be patient with him. We think he’s a big part of our future.”

Predictably, there have been trade rumors involving Nichushkin. But the Stars will be loath to part ways with such a talented, young forward. Remember that veteran wingers Patrick Sharp, 34, and Ales Hemsky, 33, are only signed for one more year. And while Dallas did draft right winger Denis Gurianov with the 12th overall pick last year, that was a surprise pick and it remains to be seen if he’ll pan out.

For Nichushkin, last year was another NHL learning experience.

“Sometimes the season is hard,” he told reporters in March, “and it’s a hard league and sometimes you have hard days.”

There will be more hard days in the future, because nothing ever goes perfectly. But a few more good days in 2016-17 would sure be nice.