Judging by his comments today, Jared Bednar seems to be leaning toward putting Valeri Nichushkin at left wing on the second line, with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky. On paper, it seems like probably the most logical move, given the current state of the roster.
But make no mistake, the pressure is on Nichushkin, to validate Bednar’s move and also to get his career to the next level. It’s time for the big Russian to show he can be more than just a 21-27-point guy in this league.
Now look, I know that 21 and 27 points isn’t too bad for a guy who has mostly played on the third line the past two years. Nichushkin has gotten his NHL career back on track for sure, after two years in the KHL and one 57-game season with Dallas in which he scored all of zero goals.
But he’s also gotten some top-six action too. He’s had mixed results when given a top-six role, sometimes going too long between goals. Yet, he’s been very good defensively and is strong on the puck, and he goes hard to the net. He needs to just plant himself in front of that net better, instead of the move drive-by style he has instead. He’s got the size to stand his ground, at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. People have told me that Nichushkin scores at or near the top of most Avalanche strength fitness tests.
He’s got to get into the 30-40 point club this season, at least. With the losses of Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi, the Avs need more production from the guys still around and Nichushkin is one of them (so, too, are some guys like Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher).
He’s definitely got the talent to do it. He’s a good hockey player. He really needs to get it in his head, though, that this could be one of the last chances he gets to be a real top-six forward again, as he was much of his first two seasons with Dallas. Does he want it bad enough? Or, is being a pretty good third-liner good enough for him? Hey, some guys know they’re only as good as the third line, and that’s OK, provided they do the job.
Nichushkin should want more than that. He should take the renewed confidence of the last two years, after it looked like his NHL career return might be a short one, and push himself harder to get to that next level as a player.
Bednar seems to think he can do it. Nichushkin, though, can’t take too long to get going because there could be a push for that 2LW job by someone like a Jost or an Alex Newhook.
The opportunity for Valeri Nichushkin is here. Is he ready for it?