The Colorado Avalanche have re-signed free agent right winger Valeri Nichushkin to an 8-year contract with a $6.125 million cap hit. This contract carries him through the 2030-31 season and totals $49 million. Pierre LeBrun has the first to report news of the deal. Peter Baugh updated the financial terms.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 11, 2022
Valeri Nichushkin Signed Contract After Huge Postseason
Over his seven-year NHL career, Nichushkin played for both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars drafted him back in 2013 with their first-round, tenth overall selection. He left Dallas via free agency in the summer of 2016, opting to return to Russia to play in the KHL. Things simply weren’t working out for him in the NHL at the time. He tried returning to Dallas on a two year deal ahead of the 2018-19 season, but wound up being bought-out after the first of those two seasons.
So, there he was. Nichushkin posted 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games as a rookie for the Stars. Then, he posted 30 total points over the last two years of that rookie contract. A few seasons in the KHL before coming back to Dallas made him and the Stars hopeful for a new beginning. But, he potted ZERO goals in 57 games in 2018-19. The buyout appeared to be the end of his NHL career.
Then, Joe Sakic offered Nichushkin one last shot at the NHL. On a one-year contract worth $850,000, he played roughly 14 minutes a night over 65 games in the burgundy and blue. Nichushkin bounced between the second, third and fourth lines, and the 6’4 winger scored 13 goals and 27 points. He looked like the player Dallas drafted six seasons prior, and filled a role for Colorado.
Valeri Nichushkin Contract Demonstrates Enormous Career Reboot
And the story could have climaxed there. Nichushkin bounced back and carved out a depth role for himself on a talented Avalanche team. His one good year earned him a new two-year contract in Denver, at $2.5 million annually. In 2020-21, he posted nearly identical numbers as he did in his first Avs season. But then, in 2021-22, Nichushkin exploded for 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games.
Suddenly, the former top-ten pick in the NHL entry draft actually looked like someone who deserved to be selected in the top ten of a draft. Now, through 405 career games, Nichushkin has 71 goals and 103 assists for 174 points. Those career totals don’t quite tell his story accurately though. If we remove his Stars years and just look at his three seasons in Colorado, he scored 100 points in 182 games. And again, he potted more than half of those Avs points in this most recent single-season. Those numbers marked new career highs in each category, along with a career-high 19:02 in ice time per night. He did all that while also carrying a 58.4% Corsi, plus a relative Corsi of 7.5%. He played regularly alongside fellow UFA’s Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky as Colorado’s second line. Oftentimes, coach Jared Bednar shifted either Burakovsky or Nichushkin up to their first line to mix in with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and/or Mikko Rantanen to spread their talent. Minutes with any of those three only helped his output.
What This Means for the Future
If the Avalanche could only retain one of Burakovsky, Kadri or Nichushkin, armchair GM’s everywhere would likely be divided on who to keep. Kadri plays centre, a natural need for most NHL teams. He comes with baggage and the risk of his temper, though if this season was any indication, the forward may have put all that behind him. Then, there’s Burakovsky, who arrived in Denver with a Cup title already and showed he knows what it takes in a desperate playoff run this season.
But, when push comes to shove, Nichushkin might be the most valuable asset of the three. Sure, he doesn’t play centre, nor does he have the release or finesse that Burakovsky possesses. But he plays like a human wrecking ball. His huge frame, his uncanny ability to possess pucks in the offensive zone, and his year-over-year development tell the whole story. And now, he’s demonstrated the ability to score north of 20 goals? “The ‘Choo-‘Choo Train”, as he is affectionately known in Denver, plays like a young Milan Lucic, but already exceeding Lucic’s scoring touch for his age.
Players like him prove themselves in the postseason more often than anywhere else. And for Nichushkin, his tremendous regular season stood as difficult to outperform. But in the playoffs this year, he once again took his game to another level. He’s assisted on Stanley Cup Final overtime winners. He’s posted multiple multi-goal playoff games, in the Conference Finals round as well as the Stanley Cup Final. Heck, he’s even received over 20, 21, and 22 minutes in ice time in various outings. Seemingly overnight, Nichushkin went from a nobody in the NHL to one of the most-effective middle-six wingers in the game. Now, he’s getting paid like it too.
🚨SIGNING UPDATE🚨: Avalanche agree to an eight-year contract extension with F Valeri Nichushkin (via @PierreVLeBrun)…
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) July 11, 2022