Draft prospect Valeri Nichushkin says he is coming to America
One of the more interesting developments of the Memorial Day weekend was a story on the rsport.ru web site that quoted Valeri Nichushkin as saying he is ready to play in North America.
That likely was of great significance to the Lightning, which it is believed to have a keen interest in perhaps drafting the talented 18-year-old Russian with the No. 3 overall pick of the June 30 draft. In fact, Nichishkin told the web site Tampa Bay and the Predators, with the No. 4 overall pick, have shown interest.
One stumbling block was the two-year contract Nichushkin has/had with Moscow Dynamo which traded for the right wing last season in a deal that included a reported $10 million. But Nichushkin told rsport the deal wasn't that rich, the contract has been terminated -- no details were given -- and that Dynamo is okay with his decision.
The unknown -- and this is what the Lightning will try to find out at this week's combine -- is what happens if Nichushkin does not make an NHL team out of training camp. There was this quote in the rsport story about the player's relationship with Dynamo: "We agreed they would let me go," Nichushkin said, "but if something across the ocean goes wrong I'll come straight back."
To read the entire interview, go here.
Whatever happens, Nichushkin's situation adds another level of intrigue to the draft. Defenseman Seth Jones is the consensus No. 1 prospect, but a story in the Denver Post quoted the Avalanche's head scout as saying his selection by Colorado is not a slam dunk.
Forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are considered, in either order, to be the second and third best North American players available. Nichushkin is ranked No. 4 overall by the International Scouting Service. But at 6 feet 3, 194 pounds with room to grow, Nichushkin is a terrific skater with advanced skills and fits the Lightning's profile.
As Lightning head scout Al Murray said, "He's got individual one-on-one skills with the puck. That was maybe the problem with him, that you didn't think he could see the other options and could play with his other players very well. But in February at (the 5 Nations under-18 tournament), that's maybe the most dominant performance I've ever seen at a tournament. He absolutely took over and was a combination of (Alex) Overchkin and (Evgeni) Malkin. He was in on the forecheck. He was finishing his checks. He was making big plays. He scored big goals. He never quit on a shift. He was just spectacular."