2013 Draft Prospect Profile: Valeri Nichushkin

Next up in our series of eligible players in Sunday's NHL entry draft is forward Valeri Nichushkin of Traktor Chelyabinsk, expected to go as high as fifth overall.

Valeri Nichushkin does not have to do much to draw attention. The recently turned 18-year-old Russian winger is already six foot three and 200 lbs., and has drawn comparisons to fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Nichushkin moved throughout the different levels of hockey in Russia this past season, playing for Chelyabinsk in the minor league (MHL) and the VHL, which is the second division or second highest league in Russia, much like the Allsvenskan league in Sweden.

In the KHL, he scored four goals and six points in 18 games, and six goals and nine points in 25 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk, which lost in the final round of the post-season to defending champions Dynamo Moscow.

Nichuskin's combination of size, speed, and his playmaking skills make him an ideal power forward who is able to push past defenders to the net, but because of his strength, he has been criticized for trying to do too much himself instead of passing the puck to his teammates.

From Eliteprospects.com:

...He is an excellent skater with a combination of quickness and agility topped of with great top-end speed. Nichushkin has a very dangerous shot as well as very good playmaking-ability. Thanks to his size, strength and brilliant puckhandling he can power through the defence on his way to the net. Nichushkin still lacks consistency and either the will or vision to share the puck when there is no opening instead of trying to finish every play himself. (Matias Strozyk, 2013)

Consistency is a frequent complaint with young players, especially considering Nichushkin bounced around quite a bit between leagues last season, and his defensive game also requires some improvement. The fact that his contract with Traktor extends through 2014-15 also makes him a gamble for some teams, but most observers and scouts seem to agree that his skill and versatility (he can play all three forward positions) make him worth the risk.

From The Score:

He’s unbelievably skilled. He’s a game-breaker. He looks an awful lot like (Evgeni) Malkin out there. He’s the wild card of this whole thing.He could go anywhere from 3 to 5. If he slips farther than that, somebody has made a big mistake.

- Dennis MacInnis, ISS (International Scouting Services)

The Flames were recently rumoured to be heavily interested in Nichushkin, and why wouldn't they be--with his combination of size and skill, he seems to be exactly the type of impact player that they need at the forward position.

However, he might not fall past Carolina, which has the fifth overall pick, and down to the Flames at six. I for one would prefer for them to draft a two-way centre like Monahan or Lindholm at sixth overall, but if Nichushkin is there the Flames will certainly have to consider him. Lindholm's stock seems to be rising all the time and I wouldn't be overly surprised to see him go at number five.

Although he is considered to be an impact player, Nichushkin didn't play as many minutes as a guy like Lindholm did in the SEL. His total of .35 PPG in the KHL this past season would have seen him score 19 points at the NHL level, which puts him in the same company as Ovechkin and Malkin, but much lower than Monahan's 33--although Nichushkin was obviously playing against men, not teenagers.

As with virtually any European (especially Russian) prospect, the risk is there with Nichushkin, but so is the reward. He wouldn't be my first choice for the Flames, but I wouldn't be massively disappointed either.



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