NHL Draft Profile: Valeri Nichushkin
Hometown: Chelyabinsk, Russia
Birth Date: March 4, 1995
Weight: 196 lb
Position: Left Wing
18 Games Played, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Nichushkin is a large power forward with impressive natural skill with the potential to be one of the game's top wingers. The 2012-13 season was a big one for Nichushkin who made his KHL debut at the age of 17 as well as representing Russia in the World Junior Championships. Nichushkin was transferred to Dynamo Moscow in May and signed a two-year contract which was the terminated on the condition that he makes the NHL. If he is unable to, he would once again be a member of Dynamo.
Nichushkin's biggest advantage is his size. He is not only big and strong, however, he also has the awareness and skating ability to be taken seriously as an offensive threat on the ice. He has the ability to use his size to play an extremely physical game, as evidenced by his 25 penalty minutes in the WJC, but also has the hands to score and create off the rush.
His biggest weakness, as of now, is his defensive game but his size should allow him to keep pace with the larger, faster skaters of the NHL.
Scouts are saying:
Nichushkin is an impressive power forward who has a ton of natural gifts. He could be a potential star, if not an elite power winger in the NHL. His best skill is his skating ability, as he is a true plus-plus skater that defensemen need to respect when he's barreling down the wing. If a gap gets too tight, Nichushkin will likely be behind the defender in no time. He is also a strong, 6'4'' pillar who loves to drive to the net. Combining that with his speed and skill, he draws a lot of penalties. Nichushkin's north-south game is his strength, but he has a high level of ability with the puck, with the capability to make players miss. He can make plays to his teammates, and he has good offensive instincts, although his hockey sense is an area of division among scouts. Some question his vision, feeling he can be a little selfish. Others think his hockey sense is above average. He has the ability to skate through an entire team, so it cannot be considered surprising that he tries to do a lot. One area of concern: he needs to improve his defensive play.
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
It's very rare that a player as young as Nichushkin gets a reasonable amount of ice time and even rarer that the player has any kind of success. Even the three players on this list played sparingly: Nichushkin played just 8:20 per game in 18 regular season games and 12:22 per game in 25 playoff contests; Tarasenko played 12:27 per game; and Kuznetsov played 10:58 per game.
But these limitations aren't going to magically disappear. So what else can we do to get a more complete picture? One way is looking over scouting reports, and those are (unsurprisingly) mostly positive. Everyone agrees that Nichushkin has tremendous skating and good puck skills, especially for a player of his size (Kyle Woodlief described him as "King Kong on skates"). But there are also cautions. Corey Pronman has Nichushkin ranked fourth overall, but notes that Nichushkin's hockey sense has been questioned and that his defensive play needs work.