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.