“He’s a massive X factor.”

DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche Before Game 1, the Stanley Cup Final, stars dominated headlines.

Valeri Nichushkin He was the dominant player on the ice.

Nichushkin's incredible performance in Colorado's 4-3 overtime victory against the United States was astonishing to all. Tampa Bay Lightning • Includes a goal and key assist Andre BurakovskyThis might not have been expected. He's the top-line skater who is least well-known in this series. Nathan MacKinnon Gabriel Landeskog.

It's not true anymore. You can consider Wednesday's game Nichushkin's coming-out party. He has many Avs fans and his value keeps on rising.

Jared Bednar, Nichushkin's coach, said that Nichushkin is a “huge X factor” after Game 1. He's had an amazing season. He has been a difference-maker for us almost every night. You saw tonight his ability to check, check, and check back pucks to keep offense going, which was evident tonight. He scored some great goals and was a huge player at the net. [Burakovsky]. He has been playing since childhood. [well] MacKinnon, Landeskog were on that line.

Colorado knew its strength would be tested. Nazem Kadri A broken thumb sustained in Game 3 against the Western Conference finals saw him sidelined indefinitely. Edmonton Oilers. The Avalanche promised to fill Kadri’s chair by committee. Nichushkin was the committee's chairman.

Kadri was forced to leave, and Nichushkin was promoted to Colorado's highest line. He scored twice in Colorado's come from behind win in that contest. To increase his returns, he's been primarily in this lineup position since then.

Nichushkin could be seen performing in Colorado. The 27-year old had a career-reviving regular season with 25 goals and 52 assists in 62 games. These were his highest totals for almost a decade. No one noticed the Avalanche team's stacked stature.

At least, from the outside.

Bednar spoke of the many things that make Nichushkin so special, saying “It's an endless list of things for us.” He is a great all-around player with or without puck. It's difficult to describe his contributions. … When you are as committed as Val, it's difficult to play against. Then he can play with high-end talent, make moves and finish things. He is just too much to handle.

It's been the same throughout the playoffs. Nichushkin has scored six goals, 11 points and averaged nearly 20 minutes per game.

Landeskog said, “Val is an important part of our team and of the offensive game and our checking games and helps out in every area.” “He's been huge, he just keeps getting better and more important for us.

Nichushkin has always been comfortable flying under the radar. Nichushkin, unlike others who have been sleeping on him is fully awake to the possibility.

Nichushkin exclaimed, “It's amazing,” about playing with MacKinnon or Landeskog. You have to prove it every single game. It is impossible to be tired. It's something I love.”

Once, the idea that Nichushkin might become a top-end contributor seemed like a pipedream. The 10th overall pick of the Dallas Stars In 2013, he had made a long and difficult journey to the Avalanche. It even drove him out of the NHL altogether.

Colorado believed in Nichushkin’s abilities. Together they helped Nichushkin return to NHL prominence.

Nichushkin is a rich-to-rags (and back-to riches) story.

He was selected by the Stars as a standout KHL hockey player. At just 17 years of age, he made an impressive debut in that league with his hometown Chelyabinsk Traktor. He was also a strong force for Russia in the IIHF World Junior championships. In that same season, he won the overtime win against Canada and earned Russia a bronze medal.

Nichushkin was a 6-foot-4 and 200-pound teenage believed to have the entire “power forward package” with high hockey intelligence, speed, great hands, and playmaking ability.

Nichushkin was able to convert the NHL game.

He was a solid rookie in 2013-14 and scored 14 goals and 34 pts in 79 games. It would be followed by the dreaded sophomore slump. Nichushkin suffered from hip and groin issues in 2014-15. He had surgery on the former, which made it possible for him to play only eight games. His third season resulted in a disappointing 29-point loss.

Nichushkin was so dissatisfied that he signed a contract with CSKA Moscow after his 2016 entry-level deal ended. He was lured back by the Stars on a $29.9 million, two-year contract with them in July 2018. Nichushkin never lived up the investment.

The Dallas do-over only lasted one season. The Stars put Nichushkin on unconditional waivers after he failed to score in 57 games during their 2018-19 season. They then bought the rest of his contract.

Nichushkin was searching for another shot. The Avalanche received a flyer.

Colorado signed Nichushkin to a $850,000, one-year contract in August 2019. This was a low risk commitment that could pay off.

Spoiler alert: It happened.

Bednar explained that “we brought him in, but his confidence was low.” It's been built over the years, and he's proud of it. [become] This man is an integral part of our team. His efforts are not lost on the team, as well as in our locker room. They recognize the importance of his contribution to our success.”

Nichushkin was always skilled. He needed patience and the right environment for him to flourish. Colorado provided both.

“It is the system we play, and the kind of demands we make of our players on defense.” [that's] Bednar described Val's great strength as a strong suitor.” “He's a strong, tall, muscular man who can skate, and fits our mold. His style is suited for the races he can win and the battles.

The Avalanche winger slowly retooled his game with the Avalanche. He scored 23 goals and 48 point in 120 games, 2019-21. Nichushkin was excellent. He was solid.

He was a star this season. Even Bednar didn’t see it coming.

Bednar said that he was surprised by the progress he has made with his game. There are many reasons it shouldn't be surprising to me. He has found his place here. He began on our third line, then moved to our second. Now he plays on the first. He's been successful in every aspect of this. He is highly committed, motivated, hardworking, and one of our most hard-working guys.”

Nichushkin begins the day in the gym. After cutting video or preparing for a game, Bednar is often the last person to leave Colorado's facilities. Nichushkin's discipline sometimes leaves him to the lights.

Bednar explained, “I will be walking out of this room and I'll watch Val leave the room. He's just finishing lifting,” He is that type of guy. He's there even before he gets up in the morning. He isn't hurt, he doesn’t need any treatment, but he is here. He is going to work hard. It's not surprising that he has taken off from where he was when you see him working every day.

Bednar likens Nichushkin and MacKinnon to their meticulousness, determination, and desire to improve. Nichushkin's team is used to seeing and discussing MacKinnons level of focus. They can now put Nichushkin in that same category.

Defenseman Val is just such a driven player Devon Toews said. He works so hard on the ice to prepare. He's a huge, muscular, and strong player who loves the playoffs. It's almost a lost art for a guy this large who can skate so well. It's not often that you see a man with his size and ability to move and protect pucks. He's scoring great goals and is playing well for us.

Colorado expects this Cup Final will be a grind. Bednar admitted on Friday that the Avalanche haven't yet seen Tampa Bay's best game.

Nichushkin is a similar case. Now, his ceiling seems menacingly high. This would be a big help considering Kadri is still in limbo. Although the injured center has been able to skate with a stick again, there is no word on whether it will be available for further skating.

This means Nichushkin should be kept in Colorado's top six.

After a long and difficult road, he is finally there.

“Val is a horse,” J.T. Compher said. “He defends so well. He skates so well. He's physical. He is a good steward of his body. He's skilled. He has a great shot. He has done an excellent job in giving us options across our lineup. He plays in the right way every single night. He is difficult to match. He has been an important player for us throughout the year, especially in postseason.”

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