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Nill: Stars knew ‘risk with the Russian factor,’ but couldn’t pass on Nichushkin

Jul 25, 2013, 8:09 PM EDT

Valeri Nichushkin Getty Images

The Dallas Stars weren’t expecting to get a top-three talent with the 10th overall pick at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

But, according to GM Jim Nill, that’s exactly what they got in Valeri Nichushkin.

“We were excited. I think it’s no secret, everybody had him as one of the top three players in the draft,” Nill told the Stars website. “If he was playing [Canadian junior hockey] somewhere in Moose Jaw or Peterborough, he probably would have been a top-three pick. There is risk with the Russian factor, everybody knows that.”

The “Russian factor” reared its head earlier this month when Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the Devils by retiring with 14 years and $77 million left on his deal. He cited the desire to return to his native Russia and play in front of family in the country’s top domestic league, the KHL, as two of his major reasons for walking away.

In addition to Kovalchuk, Winnipeg’s Alex Burmistrov also returned to Russia this summer, as did Nashville’s Sergei Kostitsyn (though, to be accurate, Kostistyn is Belarusian and returned to the KHL, not his home country.)

Ruslan Fedotenko — who is Ukrainian — also left the NHL to sign with HC Donbass, a KHL team located in his native country.

So it’s no surprise Nill was very cognizant of the risks involved with drafting Nichushkin, one of the most highly-touted Russian prospects in years (and one that played in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk last season.)

The Dallas GM does have a way to entice Nichushkin to head to North America, though — the opportunity to play in the NHL next season.

Physically, he’s ready,” Nill said of Nichushkin. “He’s a man already.

“Where we were picking, he was a player we couldn’t pass on. There was just too much there.”

  1. 950003cups - Jul 25, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    If he played in the KHL, he’s not ready yet. The body contact is almost nonexistent in Russia. Probably should play at the AHL level for a season and learn how to take a hit.

    • phillyphanatic77 - Jul 25, 2013 at 9:17 PM

      I have a feeling this kid will be like JVR- big, fast, and inconsistent. He’ll probably dazzle for stretches then disappear even longer. Even a player like Ovechkin, with all the ability in the world, disappears (as we saw to start the season). And Semin has done the same too. And that’s not to knock JVR as a bad player (he’s shown otherwise throughout his career). I think Nichuskin will be dangerous playing with the likes of Benn and Seguin, but we’ll see how long it takes him to adjust to the NHL.

      • stakex - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:43 PM

        Perhaps Ovechkins “disappearance” had something to do with a new coach, new system, new linemates, and worst of all a new position he had never played? If you expect any player to thrive right away under those conditions you are crazy.

    • bendover09 - Jul 26, 2013 at 7:59 AM

      950003cups, you must mean NFL.. its okay, we forgive .

  2. chanceoffleury1 - Jul 25, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    If you put a great team around the Russian player, then I feel like the “russian factor” is low on your list of worries. I never get the vibe that Malkin ever seriously considers screwing the Pens over and running back to Russia. I feel like he really enjoys the organization being consistently competitive and also the other guys in the locker room. Whenever the Caps were winning President’s Trophies I feel like I never heard about how Ovi wants to go back to Russia. Nowadays I feel like I hear it every other month. Same with Datsyuk. I feel like he really enjoys his teammates and Detroit’s organization so I just don’t see him turning up one day and saying “CYA! I’m going back to the motherland!” And the way I explain it could come off as “catering” to the Russian player, but I think a competitive organization with a strong atmosphere in the locker room is what every team should be striving for.

    • 19to77 - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:37 PM

      You’re right. Canadian and American players do it too – signing with more competitive teams, signing in settings they like more, etc. Parise and Suter, Nash, Heatley, Weber (stayed only because the Preds matched his offer sheet), etc. But we don’t talk about the “American factor” or the “Canadian factor” because we’d be talking about ourselves at that point.

      • stakex - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:52 PM

        Its also worth pointing out that Americans and Canadians are already playing in their “home” league… so they have nowhere to go back to. That’s not true for Russians and some European players, who have a league that’s become more and more equal with the NHL that plays in their home country.

      • 19to77 - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:59 PM

        Yeah. It’s not seen as a “defection” when you go to another team. You might be viewed as a traitor by your old team’s fans, but if Ryan Kesler suddenly left Vancouver for Detroit (he’s from Michigan, isn’t he?), no-one would be making accusations along nationalist lines. Still the NHL, after all.

  3. torggo - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    You’re right about Kostitsyn being Belarusian, that he signed with a team in Russia and that the KHL is the top domestic league in Russia… but it’s worth noting that the KHL is an international league represented by teams in 7 other countries besides Russia (soon to be 8 when Jokerit from Finland joins). One of those teams is in Belarus so Kostitsyn will play games in his home country by virtue of being in the KHL.

    • Mike Halford - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:29 PM

      Correct. I just didn’t want him to fall under the “going back to mother Russia” umbrella because it’s not accurate. But yes, the KHL is certainly more than a Russian league now.

  4. tru2joelu4eva - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    god dammit i miss tim tebow.

  5. jb8383 - Jul 26, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I hope he doesn’t do what Kovy did.

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