What could Stars expect from Nichushkin’s possible return?

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It really hasn’t been that long of a time since Valeri Nichushkin suited up for the Dallas Stars. Sometimes it feels that way, though.

Consider all that’s happened for Dallas since Nichushkin’s last game in the NHL (May 11, 2016 to close out the 2015-16 season):

  • Lindy Ruff, the coach he seemingly frequently clashed with, was fired after the 2016-17 campaign.
  • Ken Hitchcock (a coach who may or may not have had similar issues with Nichushkin) lasted one season with the Stars during his own reunion season with Dallas in 2017-18.
  • Jim Montgomery was hired as the Stars’ new head coach. Maybe he’d vibe with Nichushkin?
  • Dallas missed the playoffs during the past two seasons without Nichushkin.

About a week ago, The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro reported (sub required) that Nichushkin’s agent said that the winger would like to return to the Stars, and implied that the feeling was mutual. The Stars’ Twitter account made such a possibility sound strong with word from GM Jim Nill today.

“I think in the end, Val is coming to back as a Dallas Star here this year,” Nill said.

With 231 goals scored last season, the Stars were either middle of the pack or slightly below average (depending upon how you look at it). While there were some moderate signs of improvement after Ruff’s disastrous final season, that’s a pretty disappointing output for a team that employs Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, especially since Alexander Radulov was a strong addition to the mix.

That’s where things get interesting: how much of a boost would Nichushkin, 23, give to the Stars?

Being that he’s still young, there’s the possibility that he could be a late bloomer and round closer into the form that made him the 10th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. If nothing else, Nichushkin would provide a big body for the Stars.

His actual output was disappointing both in North America and then when he went overseas.

During Nichushkin’s final NHL season in 2015-16, he only scored nine goals and 29 points. He also only managed an assist during 10 playoff games. His KHL numbers are respectable, yet they don’t exactly set the world on fire, either.

Granted, that rift with Ruff almost certainly stunted his growth.

Nichushkin averaged just under 14 minutes per game during that last season in 2015-16, a minute less than his promising rookie season in 2013-14. Things really seemed to derail in 2014-15, when health issues limited him to just eight games played.

So, yes, there’s reason to believe that Nichushkin might just be a marginal boost to the Stars. That said, maybe he just needs this clean slate?

Nichushkin stands as an interesting test case for Montgomery. The dream scenario would be that he’d play the best hockey of his career, using his size and skill to show why Dallas was so interested in him in the first place.

Ideally, Nichushkin would allow Dallas to find greater balance.

As strong as the Benn – Seguin – Radulov combo was this past season, Dallas was extremely top-heavy. Nichushkin could conceivably help Dallas spread the wealth, whether that would mean merely plopping him in Radulov’s spot or inserting him somewhere else in the lineup to enrich a needy second or third line.

The nice part is that, if the Stars can reach an agreement with Nichushkin, it would be the equivalent to a free agent signing. They wouldn’t need to give up assets in a trade (as much as Nill probably loves to make those calls after yielding huge results with the likes of Seguin).

It’s all interesting to ponder, and Stars fans might find themselves getting excited about the possibilities. That said, it’s not yet official, and we’ve already seen some twists and turns in the Nichushkin story.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.