Some of the more exciting and talented hockey players in today’s NHL, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin for starters, hail from Russia.
New Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill believes the next great Russian transplant is on his way to Dallas.
With the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft on Sunday, Nill and the Stars took left-shooting forward Valeri Nichushkin as their top selection.
Nichushkin will enter the NHL with quality experience for just an 18-year-old, playing in the finals of the KHL, Russia’s elite hockey league, for Traktor Chelyabinsk.
“It came to the point in the draft that to pass up on a player like that — we couldn’t do it,” Nill said. “It’s been awhile since Dallas has drafted a player with that kind of upside, and it’s something we couldn’t pass on.”
A question of whether he could be released from his contract that was sold to Dynamo — another KHL team — to join the Stars or the Texas Stars lingered before the draft. Nill confirmed the player is free to sign with his new organization when the two can come to terms.
Nichushkin will participate in the Stars’ development camp next week in Frisco. Nill said the organization plans to keep him in Dallas all summer to adjust to American life.
Nichushkin will have the opportunity to prove he is ready to immediately prove himself at the NHL level and bypass the Stars’ AHL farm team.
“We think he’s going to have a chance,” Nill said. “We are going to monitor it. I want to be very careful with it. He is a young player, but he’s been playing in the KHL and played in the KHL finals against one of the two best teams in the KHL and was one of the better players, so we’re not worried about him physically.
“It’s just going to be moving over to North America and playing in the NHL, which is the best league in the world.”
In 18 games with Traktor, Nichushkin tallied six points, including four goals and logged playing time for Russia’s U17-20 international teams.
He said he knows of Dallas because of Stars legend Mike Modano, who was present in New Jersey to announce the organization’s selection of Nichushkin on Sunday.
All it took was one short interview with team officials and the Stars’ future star said he knew Dallas was the right fit.
“After we finished, I told [Stars’ scout] Boris Protsenko that it was the best interview I had with any team and that I wanted to be a Star,” Nichushkin said.