2010-11: Valeri Nichushkin played for Traktor Chelyabinsk's U18 team and represented Russia in the U16 Four Nations Tournament. He scored 45 goals with 45 assists and had 30 penalty minutes in 46 games for Traktor during the regular season and had 1 goal and 1 assist in six games as Chelyabinsk finished third in the Russian U18 championship. Nichushkin was scoreless in two games at the Four Nations Tournament.
2011-12: Nichushkin played for Belie Medvedi in Russia's U22 MHL as a 16-year-old and represented Russia in three international tournaments. In 38 MHL games he scored 4 goals with 6 assists and was minus-10 with 6 penalty minutes. Nichushkin scored 3 goals with 3 assists (second only to Grigori Dikushin who had nine points) for Russia's gold medal-winning team at the U17 World Hockey Challenge. In four games at the U19 World Junior A Challenge he was scoreless with 2 penalty minutes and he scored 2 goals and was plus-one for Russia at the U18 World Junior Championship.
2012-13: Nichushkin made his KHL debut as a 17-year old; splitting the season between Traktor Chelyabinsk and its second club Chelmet. He also appeared in nine games for the Belie Medvedi junior team and represented Russia in both the Subway Series against Canadian junior all-stars and at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa. In 18 regular season games he scored 4 goals with 2 assists and had 6 goals with 2 assists in 19 playoff games. Nichushkin scored 8 goals with 2 assists in 15 VHL games for Chelmet and had 4 goals and 4 assists in nine games for Belie Medvedi. In six games for bronze medal-winning Russia at the WJC he scored 1 goal with 1 assist and was plus-five with 25 penalty minutes. Nichushkin was ranked fourth amongst European skaters in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft, and second in the CSS final rankings.
He's a bull. A massive frame, with really good skating and speed, plus a boatload of skill and a great shot. Nichushkin is just tough to stop 1-on-1. Heck, he's tough to stop 1-on-2 in his own age group. He's got a powerful skating stride and with a little more strength and conditioning we'll probably see even more noteworthy breakaway speed from him. One thing that really sticks out that shows his understanding of how to be an offensive threat is his ability to change the tempo and shift a gear when he has the puck. He knows when to push it and he knows when to downshift and really mess with a defenseman's gap and then burn him with strength, speed and skill. He lulls you in and you can't stop him. It's his understanding of the geometry of everything that is most impressive about his game. He knows where to put the puck where you can't reach it, he knows when to lean on you and when not to, he knows when to speed up and when to take it down. It's a great quality that you see in other super-skilled players like Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. He's not just going to go at you with skill directly, it's all calculated.
When he can't penetrate the bountiful areas of the offensive zone, he has a laser shot with a terrific release that makes him a scoring threat from distance too. Without the puck, he realizes that in order for him to make another headlong rush down the ice with it that he needs to get it back and he does so. His defensive play is straight to the point, it's not complicated but there's some guesswork involved. He's skilled, he knows what a skilled player is thinking and he reacts on that. He makes a read and attacks it and if it doesn't work out, he isn't going to hound you like Ryan Callahan, he's going to lie in the weeds and wait for his next opportunity. In that sense, he's going to chase the puck a little bit, he's going to lose his guy sometimes, but it's for a good cause in his mind. Sometimes he'll win, sometimes he'll lose. When he's keyed in and really working, he'll win more often than not. His defensive play is a little bit like Alexander Semin's, which carries an unjustly negative connotation but it's not a bad thing...at least he's participating.
He's not always going to be cooking at 100% though, he can turn it on and off, but many skill players are like that. He needs to continue to improve his strength like all young players so that he can power through checks like he does against his own age group. He could improve his balance after contact a little bit in that regard as well, sometimes he loses his edge in situations where a power forward should not. His playmaking ability is a bit of question mark still. He reads the game quite well, so he has vision, but on some of his rushes he doesn't even bother look to see if anyone is open or even on the rink with him. He just turns on his "power forward" switch and bullies his way to the front of the net and finishes the play or makes a mess of the opposing defensemen and even goaltender. He could improve his passing game because he's not going to be able to make that cut at the bottom of the circle and get to the net in the NHL every time, the pros learn fast.
Likely potential: First line winger, like Evgeni Malkin if he lacked potent playmaking ability.
High ceiling: Perennial all-star
Nichushkin has stepped into the NHL right from the 2013 NHL Draft and looks to be an NHL regular for the foreseeable future.