If the Lightning, as believed, has interest in taking Valeri Nichushkin with the No. 3 overall pick in the NHL draft on June 30, a major hurdle might have been eliminated.
Nichushkin told rsport.ru, a website covering sports in Russia, his two-year deal with Dynamo Moscow of Europe's Kontinental Hockey League has been terminated — no details were provided — and he wants to play next season in North America.
What Tampa Bay must determine when talking to Nichushkin at this week's combine in Toronto is what happens if he is drafted but does not make an NHL roster or isn't immediately signed.
"We agreed they would let me go," Nichushkin said of Dynamo, "but if something across the ocean goes wrong, I'll come straight back."
Nichushkin, 18, ranked by the International Scouting Service as the No. 4 prospect in the draft, is exactly what the Lightning is looking for. At 6 feet 3, 194 pounds, he has room to grow and his skating and one-on-one skills are advanced.
Of Nichushkin's performance in February at the Five Nations under-18 tournament, Tampa Bay head scout Al Murray called the wing player "a combination of (Alex Ovechkin) and (Evgeni) Malkin."
"He was spectacular," Murray said.
GOALIE WATCH: The Lightning hopes Russian goaltending prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy finds his way to North America next season as the team's enthusiasm for the No. 19 overall pick of the 2012 draft continues to grow.
"I haven't seen a goalie in my time scouting as developed at this stage of his development as this guy is," Murray said. "That doesn't mean he's going to eclipse Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur. But at this stage of his development, at his age, I haven't seen a goalie as good as this guy."
Vasilevskiy, 18, had a big year.
In eight games with Ufa of the KHL he was 4-1-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. At the world junior championship he helped Russia to bronze with a 1.81 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in four games.
Vasilevskiy has one year left on his contract, so the only way he gets to North America next season is if he, his agent or the junior team that holds his rights (Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League) buys out the final season. "He's on the cusp of pushing his game to a whole other level," said Murray, adding Vasilevskiy also is eligible to play for AHL Syracuse. "We're just not sure where that's going to be."
MEDAL STAND: C Nate Thompson said helping the United States to a bronze medal at this month's world championship was "a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget."
Thompson, 28, had a goal, three points and was plus-1 in 10 games at the tournament in Sweden and Finland. He was an alternate captain and played with teammates Matt Carle (also an alternate captain) and Ben Bishop.
"It was awesome," Thompson said of earning bronze. "With the guys we had and how young we were, I don't think anyone would have picked us to do that."
Staff prospect? In addition to Ulf Samuelsson, speculation about a new Lightning assistant includes Peter Horachek, a former minor-league right wing fired after nine seasons with the Predators. He coached the power play and penalty kill.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]