Nichushkin no longer flew under the radar with Avalanche during the Stanley Cup final

TAMPA – Andrew Coliano saw the metamorphosis first hand.

After joining the Dallas Stars at the end of the 2018-19 season, Koliano saw Valery Nichushkin at the lowest point of his career, struggling hard to find his confidence, not to mention the back of the net.

When you look at how impactful Colorado Avelanch The winger went through the first two games of the Stanley Cup final, it’s stupid to think that there was actually a moment in Nichushkin’s NHL career when he spent an entire season without scoring a single goal or scoring a small penalty.

These days should feel like an eternity ago for Nichushkin, who scored twice in Saturday’s 7-0 strike to continue his tumultuous game in those playoffs as Avalanche took a 2-0 lead in the series as the series moved to Florida for the next two games.

“It may have been a different scenario in Dallas. “I do not think he was comfortable there. “I think different things were happening,” Coliano said. “Honestly, I can’t even describe what kind of player Val is. He is phenomenal. He’s just a man who runs the game all night, he’s ruthless on front checks, he scores. But these are the details of his game.

“In Dallas, he was always very good in defense, I just think he got on the track in terms of goals. But since I came here (on March 21), I haven’t seen a constant level of human play, a 200-foot offensive and defensive game, as I’ve seen from Val. “

Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has been asked about Nichushkin on a regular basis and these inquiries have become more frequent recently, with good reason, given how well he plays.

This last question on Saturday night made Bednar shrug.

While the outside world simply understands how valuable Nichushkin is to Avalanche, those who see him daily were well ahead of the curve.

“I think it was created for this time of year. That’s my opinion on that, “Bednar said. “He doesn’t do anything different from what he didn’t do first for most of at least two seasons.

“I want to say that I have already said that. big, long, strong, fast, stubborn, hungry, ruthless on the puck. Finishing the chances he gets, he can play with top guys, you can move him up and down in the lineup, play strength, penalty. I mean, I don’t know what else to say about the man.

Bednar was not contemptuous at all. He is probably a little surprised that it took so long for others to notice.

This is what Nichushkin does, and although he can fly under the radar in terms of national – or even international attention – his contribution is appreciated.

The moment for Nichushkin’s best season of his career – which included 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games before adding 8 goals and 13 points in 16 games – could not have come at a better time for him, as he is one of nine waiting for unlimited free agents on Avalanche’s list.

And it’s certainly due to a healthy increase from the modest $ 2.5 million AAV he made in the last two seasons after being bought out by Stars.

Nichushkin, 27, thinks he will attract a lot of attention in the free agency if he does not return before July 13?

Although attracting Nathan McKinnon to an extension is a top priority for Avalanche, keeping Nichushkin in the fold is high on the list of general manager Joe Sakic.

There just aren’t many guys his size (6 feet 4, 210 pounds) who can skate the way he does, and also have the strength and mind to win as many puck battles as he does.

The tools and skill set have always been obvious to Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, but it was simply a matter of regular compatibility.

“I played against him and I remember him driving wide and getting in, he was going hard to the net and he was strong,” said Avalanche defender Josh Manson. “But he seems to be much more consistent with that now. It fits so well into the structure, it checks so hard. He is such a big, strong man. He is skinny and just constantly puts pressure on you and is strong enough to turn the puck. It’s been amazing since I came here. “

Nichushkin not only made an impact at the end of the offensive, he is very responsible in defense and is a key player in the penalty of Avalanche – which keeps Lightning goalless in the man’s advantage in six opportunities so far.

“I mean, he’s a train to us. He’s such a hard-working man and it’s obvious on the ice, “said Avalanche defender Cale McCarthy. “He is so valuable to us in every single zone, whether it’s just picking up speed in the neutral zone and entering ozone or helping break into zone D. You can obviously see his offensive talent, which he showed recently. It is the complete package. I mean, he was amazing to us. “

Given this full package, it is possible that Nichushkin will receive offers north of $ 5 million per season.

Can Avalanche reach that price?

Or does Nichushkin appreciate the suitability and opportunity he has been given since joining Avalanche?

This is a question that can only be answered at the bargaining table and the answer will not be known until later, although you can expect it to be included in the equation.

Nichushkin’s increased level of play helped Avalanche overcome the loss of center Nazem Kadri, who missed the last three games with a broken right thumb.

Kadri is approaching his return to the squad, although Bednar was not ready to set a timeline for his potential return, still calling it every day – although Game 4 may not be out of the question.

“Obviously he’s making progress,” Bednar told reporters before taking off for Florida. “He skates every day. He put his wand in it, he starts shooting puck now and does more with the puck by grabbing and releasing it. So we hope to see him at some point. “

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