Their ages (and perhaps their ceilings) are quite different, but Valeri Nichushkin and Ilya Kovalchuk are in similar situations when it comes to possible NHL returns.
Their teams control their rights on paper, yet both Nichushkin and Kovalchuk may just stay in the KHL. In the case of Nichushkin, Stars’ amateur scouting director Joe McDonnell told NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale that there’s a “50-50 chance” he could be back.
“[If he does return], coach Ken Hitchcock and him will have to forge a relationship,” McDonnell said. “If you watch Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s what a Val Nichushkin can be in the end. But it’s whether he has it in his heart. If he wants to do it, he can do it.”
If a Malkin comparison wasn’t enough, McDonnell emphasized the Stars’ interest in saying it would be “huge for our franchise” to get the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft back.
One thing standing in Dallas’ favor is that Lindy Ruff is no longer in town. Ruff and Nichushkin didn’t get along, and at least one report indicated that he wouldn’t want to play for him if he returned to North America.
Pondering his value
Last September, Stars GM Jim Nill expressed a hope that Nichushkin would return to the NHL as a “more mature player.”
The Malkin comparison is a little hasty, as Nichushkin was good-but-not-great in the KHL this past season (11 goals, 24 points in 36 games). Some might peg Nichushkin’s potential as more in the Alex Burmistrov range, and even if that isn’t as enticing, the Stars could still use some young forward depth beyond their more obvious pieces like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
They also could benefit from grabbing some assets in a trade, if it comes down to that.
Also, Morreale notes that the Vegas Golden Knights could scoop up Nichushkin’s rights if the Stars leave him exposed in the expansion draft, even if Nichushkin stays in the KHL.
Long story short, the Nichushkin – Stars story may still have some twists and turns. It sounds like Dallas wants him back in a Stars uniform, yet that is just one possibility for the puzzling prospect.