Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Valeri Nichushkin Set to Return to Colorado Avalanche

After nearly seven weeks away from the team, Colorado Avalanche winger Valeri Nichushkin returned to practice. His absence came after he left to receive care from the NHL’s player assistance program. Nichushkin became the second Avs player to take advantage of the program this season. Defenceman Samuel Girard first took a leave of absence early in the 2023-24 season, followed by Nichushkin more recently. Girard returned back on New Year’s Eve, and now Nichushkin too appears ready to resume playing hockey.

Valeri Nichushkin Set to Return to Colorado Avalanche

Despite missing roughly one-third of the schedule to-date, the Avalanche see Nichushkin remain near the top of their roster in scoring. He ranks fourth on the team in points, with 42 in just 40 games. Only Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar join him with over a point-per-game pace this season. Unsurprisingly, those three also represent the only three players on the team ahead of Nichushkin in scoring.

In the 17-game stretch without him, the Avs accumulated a mediocre 8-7-2 record. By contrast, the team has gone 26-11-3 with Nichushkin in the lineup. His average ice-time per game (21:49) illustrates his importance to the team’s offence. The trickle-down effect on the forward group cannot be overstated. He can play alongside Rantanen and MacKinnon, or as a wing pair with Artturi Lehkonen for a relentlessly physical presence.

Nichushkin’s Avalanche Return Feels Like a Deadline Acquisition

This addition, at this time on the schedule, means a lot for the Avs. While they certainly will remain amongst plenty of trade rumours as the deadline approaches, a healthy forward group makes acquiring another forward far less of a priority. Sure, they’d love a middle-six centre. But with their cap situation, and after adding Zach Parise recently too, that feels like more of a “nice-to-have”.

Certainly, Colorado remains squarely in “win now” territory. With all their best players either right in or entering the prime of their careers, many of which won the Cup with the team just two summers ago, they’re all-in. But their problems haven’t been in the offensive zone, where they scored the second-most goals thus far league-wide.

What this Means for the Future

On the other end of the ice, their usually phenomenal defence has slipped this season. That comes from poor defensive zone play, poor goaltending, or a combination of both. Their team save percentage sits near the bottom of the league (.892%, T-27th). Their opponents convert on over 10% of high-danger chances Colorado allows, too. That figure ranks in the highest quadrant of the league.

Nichushkin gives the Avalanche another dominant two-way forward, which should benefit them at both ends of the ice. Still, teams inevitably allow high quality chances over the course of a 60-minute game. The Avs must tighten things up to at least stop self-inflicting the trouble as often as they have this season.

At this point, a depth defence addition or a tandem goaltender acquisition feels most prudent. With all the successful deals the Avalanche made over the last decade, it’d be no surprise though to see some miraculous move pulled off that lands them everything from their deadline wishlist. For now, the Avalanche enjoy Nichushkin’s return to a team in desperate need for a shot in the arm.

Main Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message