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Valeri Nichushkin making star turn during Stanley Cup playoffs

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Just as an indie band suddenly jumps from eateries to sold-out stadiums, every now and then “favorite analytics” becomes mainstream. For a large part of the NHL playoffs, Valery Nichushkinattracts a wider audience. However, as a key catalyst for the Avalanche’s 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, Nichushkin Awareness has taken it to the next level.

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If you’ve been following the nerdy Hockey Twitter conversations (and the occasional… over-the-top backlash to those conversations), then you can agree that Nichushkin’s rise to fame seems welcome. And it also seems a bit surreal.

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If you are Nichushkin’s wallet, then you can also start getting fat soon. It won’t hurt the 27-year-old’s bank account that he becomes UFA once people realize he’s more than just a spreadsheet star.

Nichushkin rises in potential free agent after breakout season with Avalanche

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Once again, Valery Nichushkin’s performance in Game 1 attracted a lot of attention.

From time to time, the “bizarre statistics” star fills in the gap by addressing both the old and the new school. In the case of Nichushkin, this is absolutely accurate. Immerse yourself in this clip of highlights from Valery Nichushkin Game 1 by Dmitry Filipovich:

If there is one word that comes to mind it is tenacious.

Do you want toughness and fuss? Nichushkin is full of elbow grease. Are you talking a little strange about “active joysticks”? Nichushkin is supplying you with a fix. Just look Victor Hedman getting more annoyed in these clips above. Currently what a player who is “difficult to play against”.

[Can the Lightning slow the Avalanche down?]

To some extent, this is how Nichushkin has been playing for many years. In September 2020 J Fresh ruined Nichushkin’s promising status as an analyst favorite (and how it annoyed a lot of people). Jay Fresh put together several clips where Nichushkin was a forechecking/missing puck demon. Frankly, you see a lot of big, experienced, hardworking players who have made such an impact in the Avalanche playoffs.

Damn Jaromir Jagr called it in 2013.

With age, Jágr has evolved into a puck possession threat. There are elements of this presence in Nichushkin’s game..

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Nichushkin has the skills needed to be the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. But it was the hard work that propelled Nichushkin from a possible “draft arrest” to a breakthrough on the road to recognition on the verge of a star.

Opportunity plus growing resentment

So what has changed to push Nichushkin into the mainstream?

Like everything else, Avalanche finally freed Nichushkin. And, of course, he enjoys timely success.

In 2019-20, Nichushkin scored an underground selca hype (some real, some kind of sardonic). Averaged 14:04 minutes per game, Nichushkin scored 13 goals and 27 points in 65 matches. Does not catch the eye at first glance. But he clearly made the most of every minute..

Its 2020-21 numbers are similar. His goals (10) and points (21) were modest but commendable in 55 games and 14:05 TOI per night.

Even in the early stages of his career, Nichushkin showed signs of a strong defender. Take a look at this Hockey Visa chart until 2019:

This diagram captures Nichushkin at the time extreme a little bad puck. In 57 games in the 2018/19 season, Nichushkin failed to score a single goal (including 10 assists) on 65 shots on goal.

No doubt it took Nichushkin time to regain not only his confidence, but also his perception of his game.

Even as recently as 2020-2021, you may have missed what made Nichushkin all the more special. Then came the 2021/22 season (and this 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs).

[X-factors for the 2022 Stanley Cup Final]

Part of it was an opportunity.

Nichushkin’s ice time increased to 19:02 per game, helping him score 25 goals and 52 points in just 62 games. In proportion to a full season of 82 games, that’s 68-69 points.

In 15 playoff games, Nichushkin scored five goals and six assists (11 points) for the Aves.

And, of course, not without luck.

Nichushkin scored his 25 goals, more than his last three seasons combined. His shooting percentage was 13.9% compared to a career average of 9.7. Luck with the puck was greater as his on-ice shot percentage (12.3%) was in double digits for only the second time in his career.

If that regular season wasn’t enough, Nichushkin wowed the crowd during the playoffs. Apparently even Avalanche coach Jared Bednar is surprised by what a big leap he saw from Nichushkin.

Pondering Nichushkin’s next contract – with the Avalanche or as a free agent

So for the Avalanche team, which needs to balance salary cap requirements, and potential free agent fans, there’s a multi-million dollar issue with Nichushkin. How much does it really cost? How “real” is that?

If the Avalanche allowed Nichushkin to become a free agent, any fiancé should think about how the Avs optimized his numbers. Mason Marchment – even more mysterious UVA, flared up – “rided the wave” with the Panthers. To some extent, this probably overestimated Nichushkin’s statistics.

To be clear, there is a lot to love about this process. Nichushkin has always been a player who achieves results that help his team.

Things get more complicated when such a player moves from a $2.5 million deal to a possibly risky contract.

Development of a contract forecasting tool in hockey gives interesting results for Nichushkin and two other Avalanche free agents: Nazem Kadri as well as Andre Burakovsky.

Personally, I see some parallels between Nichushkin and some of the other analyst favorites who ended up scoring enough points to draw attention to themselves.

FROM Tyler Toffolihe may have reached a new level of recognition after signing team contract. Zach Hymanworth every penny so far, but you can imagine a scenario in which he would be overpaid. Blake Coleman as well as Philip Dano are other players who have entered high-profile Stanley Cup/playoff runs to get contracts with significant terms and dollars.

Again, most – maybe all – of these players deserve to be beaten, especially at this point. It is very possible that Valery Nichushkin would have justified (and won) a seven-year contract with a maximum amount of $6.357 million or something similar. This is the player who breaks patterns; The Athletic model has estimated its market value at $10.7 million..

In fact, a cautious team might have taken notice if the Avalanche had simply allowed Nichushkin to be a free agent.

Staying in Colorado is possible, but by no means a guarantee

See how Avalanche and Lightning were built. Both of these teams rarely entered the free agent market. When they do, they are basically rummaging through trash cans.

Nichushkin’s concern is that the big contract placed too high hopes on production. If most of his game depends not only on skill, but also on will, then fans can avoid periods of drought when the puck does not hit the net.

At 27, Nichushkin is also not quite a child. Smart teams at least account for the ominous “aging curve”.

Theoretically, Avalanche could sign Nichushkin. After all, Cap Friendly designs them to have about $25.69 million of free space. However, this figure is misleading. First, there are other free agents like Kadri. Avs must also be careful, as Nathan McKinnon need a new deal after the 2022-23 season.

Perhaps a wiser goal for Avalanche and other would-be Nichushkin fans is to find the “next” Nichushkin. Avs can look to their own history for examples.

[Power rankings: top potential free agents]

The Maple Leafs present a different case. Yes, losing Zach Hyman hurts. However, they found a real gem in Michael Bunting at a discount of $950,000.

Of course, finding the next Nichushkin/Banting/Hyman isn’t easy. Some team might see enough Nichushkin in the playoffs to justify the premium price. Frankly, they may be right.

Either way, it’s a fascinating situation to watch. This is amazingly applicable on ice as well. The chaos that Nichushkin creates is pretty great if you don’t try to stop it.

James O’Brien writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Throw him…


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