Big-bodied Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin is getting another NHL chance, and it began in earnest Thursday against the team that gave up on him over the summer.
Nichushkin, who was signed by the Avalanche last month to a modest one-year, $850,000 contract, was bought out of the last year of his $2.95 million annual deal with the Dallas Stars on June 29.
The Avs hosted the Stars in a preseason game Thursday at the Pepsi Center, marking Nichushkin’s debut in burgundy and blue. Listed at just 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Nichushkin, 24, looked like a giant while playing left wing on a line with center Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi.
“It’s an opportunity, you know?” Nichushkin said before the game. “Good chance for me, to get back in NHL.”
Nichushkin was selected by the Stars No. 10 overall at the 2013 draft — just nine spots after the Avs chose Nathan MacKinnon at No. 1. As an 18-year-old in 2013-14, Nichushkin put together a solid NHL rookie season, with 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games.
But he tailed off from there and was limited to just eight games with the Stars in 2014-15 because of hip surgery. He produced just nine goals in 2015-16 while again playing 79 games, and after coming out of his three-year entry-level contract, he chose to return to Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League, where he played two seasons for CSKA Moscow from 2016 to 2018.
As an NHL restricted free agent in 2018, he resigned with the Stars but had a highly ineffective season — with zero goals and zero penalty minutes in 57 games. His 10 assists provided the only proof on paper that he even played with the club.
All signs pointed for him to return to the KHL until the Avs inquired and signed him Aug. 19.
“I don’t think about this,” Nichushkin said of returning to the KHL. “I’m more positive. I want it to be a great season for me, our team, here in the NHL.”