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‘He’s A Big Part For Us’: Avalanche Welcome Nichushkin Back



Avalanche Nichushkin

It’s hard to miss Valeri Nichushkin when he hits the ice, but all eyes were on the big man Monday afternoon during Avalanche practice.

When he first stepped on the ice, my initial thought was, “Wow, I always forget how big he is.”

“Big” is an apt word to describe everything about Nichushkin. Whether you’re talking about his actual size, his impact on the powerplay, and how important he is to the team overall, he’s “big.”

Last season, the Avalanche went were 39-8-6 with Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup, and 12-16-1 without him. This year, they’re 26-11-3 with him, and 9-8-2 without him. They’re not a flawless team with him in the lineup. After all, he’s not a second line center. They are, however, a significantly better team, and there’s no disputing that.

“He’s a huge part of our team,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said on Monday. “Record is pretty glaring when you look at when he’s in our lineup and when he’s not in our lineup. That goes to show you how much he means to our team.”

There’s no timeline for Nichushkin’s return, according to Bednar. He won’t play tomorrow against Dallas, and he’s not scheduled to join the team on their quick road trip to Chicago and Nashville, so he’s at least a week away, but just having him back around the group is a boost for the team.

“We all support him,” Cale Makar said after practice. “For him to be back, it’s awesome to see him around. We all respect him and he’s a big part for us.”

More than getting him back in the lineup, Avalanche players were just happy to see him back if it means Nichushkin is feeling better.

“We’re all just people at the end of the day,” Makar said. “Mental health comes first and hockey comes second. We’re all friends in this room and we got to support guys like that.”

The Avalanche have seen first-hand how the program can help players on the team. Sam Girard went through the program earlier this year, and since coming back, has played some of the best hockey of his career. They’re hoping the same happens here, but it would be hard to top what Nichushkin was doing before he enter the program.

The 28 year old winger was on pace for far and away his best season in the NHL. With 42 points in 40 games, he was sitting at over a point-per-game for the first time in his career, and was on a run of 12 goals in 14 games. A lot of those goals came on the powerplay, where he still sits fourth in the league with 13 tallies with the man advantage.

To say the powerplay has missed his presence is an understatement.

“Yeah, he’s not really a huge help (there),” Makar joked of Nichushkin’s impact on the powerplay, before getting serious. “He’s crucial for us in front of the net. He’s a train, so hopefully he can get that engine going again.”

Other News And Notes

  • Fredrik Olofsson was sent to the AHL on Monday to make room for Nichushkin on the roster. I asked Bednar what Chris Wagner has done to take that spot as the fourth line center.
    • “I like the fact that he’s a hard, competitive guy with a lot of experience. Freddy played pretty well for us, but when you’re missing forwards and you’re trying to get some offense and making sure that you’re really responsible checking throughout your lineup, it’s just a different mix. Looks a little bit different with Wagner in there.”
  • Expect to see more Justus Annunen on the upcoming two-game road trip.
  • Makar downplayed breaking his pointless drought last game.
    • “It’s a second assist. It’s not really an assist, in my opinion.”

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