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Christian Petersen / Staff

Are The Stars About To Boomerang Valeri Nichushkin Back To Big D?

May 14, 2018 - 10:05 am
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By: Gavin Spittle

DALLAS (105.3 The Fan) - “Yeah, I actually do.”

That's the response from Valeri Nichushkin to a source close to 105.3 The Fan when asked about interest in returning and playing for new Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery. 

Conveniently, the Stars themselves also feel as though the now 23-year-old wants to return. GM Jim Nill told the Dallas Morning News 'Inside the offseason dissection of the Stars that will take place in order for the franchise to 'chase the big dogs' in his season-wrap-up press conference, "I think he wants to come back ... Now, I am not going to say it is 100-percent because until we hear, it doesn't matter. I think he is looking forward to coming back here. Right now, I am open to discussion with him and his representatives and see where it goes."

The person that Nill will have conversations with is Nichushkin’s American-based agent Mark Gandler. (Gandler did not respond to my requests for an interview.)

Two years ago, the two sides couldn’t come together on a new deal -- one of the reasons Nichushkin signed in the KHL. (The Kontinental Hockey League overseas.) There were also reports that he did not want to play for then-coach Lindy Ruff -- but that was disputed by Nill. 

As for the negotiations this time around, I spoke with 105.3 The Fan’s own Frank Provenzano, the former Stars assistant GM who appears weekly on "The K&C Masterpiece. He believes the salary should be in the range of $1.5 million or so. Nichushkin made $925,000 in his last year with the Stars. He made $1.25 mil per year with CSKA Moscow. 

While $1.5 million doesn’t seem like a break-the-bank number, Dallas has other payday concerns. The Stars have four restricted free agents, Devin Shore, Gemel Smith, Mattias Janmark and Stephen Johns. Janmark and Johns are due for nice pay hikes; Janmark missed just one game and had his highest point total as a pro, while Johns became a blue-line mainstay last year, playing in 75 games finishing with a plus-10 -- tying him with John Klingberg in plus/minus. 

The last time we saw Nichushkin, the youngster struggled on the ice in both zones, and most importantly struggling to put the puck in the net, with only nine goals. Has there been progress there during his time in the KHL?

I spoke to top KHL insider Aivis Kalnins, who just recently brought us the breaking news that Ilya Kovalchuk is returning to the KHL after a five-year absence. Aivis kindly fielded my questions, like, "What line was Nichushkin playing on for the majority of the year?'' and "Were his linemates made up of other skilled players?''

From Aivis: "Technically he played high up in the lineup, but for a team as deep as CSKA Moscow it's really irrelevant where you play, more or less you all have the same role. For example: Their ''fourth line,' which had three fairly young players, was relied upon to score goals and work on the results (more) than, let's say, their first line, that had more experienced players. 

I asked Aivis if he has seen any improvement in Nichushkin's game.

"He has definitely gotten smarter as a player,'' he said. "There is some progress in his overall game but ultimately he strikes me as a guy who would perform much better at the NHL instead of the KHL. He seems like a guy who doesn't feel too challenged (here), and lack of motivation could mean that he hasn't been able to show or perform at the level he could.''

Has he learned to use his size to his advantage?

"Yeah,'' said Aivis, "his play along the boards is a lot better, he plays in front of the net and his reach now seems like a tool that any team would be happy to have.'' 

 But, I asked ... 24 points last year, 27 this year. That’s not a lot of numbers. Am I missing something as to why he wouldn’t have more production?

From Aivis: "For how deep the team is, it's not bad at all. Although his production isn't up there, he is still a very good player that can help defensively. If and when the time comes when he is required to be the primary scorer, I have no doubts that he would be able to do that as well.''

 And finally I asked the expert for his overall feeling on Nichushkin and his thoughts on him returning to the NHL: "I have a very strong belief that Nichushkin would love to return to the National Hockey League. He and Stars have kept in touch, with Radulov now there it gives much better odds for him to make the return. It's all in Dallas' court right now to make it happen.

"For what its worth - both sides could reunite as soon as this summer.''

(Terrific perspective from the KHL insider. You can follow Aivis Kalnins on Twitter here.) 

So do the Stars get back the kid who was their first-round pick in 2013? We say he's interested. We know the Stars are interested ... but CSKA Moscow could also be interested in keeping him around. I suppose we should include the notion that the Stars could trade his rights ... all of which means  Val Nichushkin is among the many intriguing offseason Stars questions about to get answered.