There are 91 skaters classified as rookies so far this season, and coming into Sunday afternoon, 46 of them had scored an NHL goal. That includes the Sharks’ Tomas Hertl, whose eight tallies lead all first-year players, followed by Flames forward Sean Monahan’s seven, and Alex Chiasson, who has contributed five to the Stars count.
Add a 47th name to that list: Valeri Nichushkin.
The 19-year-old winger potted his inaugural big-league tally in his 13th game after some pretty passing from linemates Cody Eakin and Brendon Dillon, finishing things off with a laser of a snapshot to the top corner behind Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
Someone get the man his cookie.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for Nichushkin, who was widely considered to be the most NHL-ready of this year’s draft class, with some even suggesting that he would be taken ahead of top-ranked skaters Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Seth Jones. Heady stuff for a guy who was compared to perennial All-Stars and Russian countrymen Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.
Twelve games into the season, however, Nichushkin had struggled in limited minutes as Stars’ coach Lindy Ruff attempted to bring him along slowly — a move that may actually be doing more harm than good.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound rookie has found a way to score at every level, and he’s often dominated players in his age group at big-ticket tournaments like the World Juniors. He’s showed flashes of brilliance in his first NHL season, picking up just two assists, though it’s no stretch of the imagination to see him start a tear similar to Monahan’s hot start, especially when he’s surrounded by young, experienced talent in Dallas that includes Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Antoine Roussel, Dillon and Chiasson, as well as veterans Ray Whitney, Shawn Horcoff, and Sergei Gonchar.
The goals will come for Nichushkin, but for now, some weight has been lifted off his sizable — and deeply talented — shoulders.