Valeri Nichushkin has seen his 2013 NHL draft stock rise considerably since burying Canada with this overtime marker to help Russia win the bronze medal in the most recent World Junior Championships. Since then, the lanky center/left winger has garnered considerable attention for his combination of NHL-ready size, good speed and his ability to drive to the net and score dirty goals.
One needs to look no further than the bronze-clinching goal to see why scouts are watering at the mouth over this prospect.
Standing at 6'4'' and already weighing close to 200 pounds as an 18-year-old, he could possibly top out around 225, giving him bona fide power forward size. While some youngsters aren't quite sure how to use their size and strength, Nichushkin uses his big body to protect the puck and drive to the net on a nightly basis.
When he isn't getting to the dirty areas and scoring goals, he is using his considerable speed and hands to open up space for those lining up alongside him. Nichushkin also has excellent vision and can find open players with the best of the 2013 crop of prospects.
Roll all of this into a package and you have one of the most coveted players in the this year's draft. Nichushkin has drawn comparisons to players like Jordan Staal due to his ability to make use of his size and vision. Coveted, indeed.
Since his showing in the WJC, Nichushkin has surpassed better known names such as Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon in the ISS rankings, landing at the No. 2 spot as the second-best prospect available in the 2013 draft.
By all accounts, MacKinnon and Drouin haven't slid a bit due to bad play. The shift in rankings is, rather, a reflection of and testament to Nichushkin's outstanding play over the last few months. He's looked even more dominating than the Halifax Moosehead duo, which is saying a lot, as MacKinnon has been one of the top prospects for this draft class over the last two or three years.
Nichushkin is the clear-cut best Russian available in the draft and could cause a bit of a shakeup in the top five in June if he continues to play like he is right now. If a team is looking for a forward instead of a defender, this is the guy that teams could pass on Seth Jones for.
Nathan MacKinnon is considered the best player available by most because of his elite hockey sense and high ceiling. However, if a team like the Edmonton Oilers—a team that already has considerable talent up front but is lacking in size—ends up selecting first overall, it wouldn't shock me to see Nichushkin selected there.
2013 is one of the most interesting drafts in recent memory, as there are dominant players at all three forward positions and on the blue line. Teams will be able to draft by need, and you'll have to look far and wide for a team GM who doesn't say that he'd like to get a bit bigger and more talented at forward.
With his tantalizing mix of speed, skill and size, Nichushkin has cemented himself as one of the players to watch as we approach the draft this summer.