Of the top five draft prospects, one has the biggest question mark – all because of his homeland.
Valeri Nichushkin is viewed by many as one of if not the most talented player in the draft class, which is saying something. Scouts drool over the skills Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin posses, the unteachable traits that Seth Jones and Aleksander Barkov own.
Nichushkin is considered a wild card, though, because he’s from Russia, which automatically raises a red flag, especially since he has been playing in the KHL. And we know the history of the Nashville Predators and drafting Russians. They haven’t selected a Russian in the last eight drafts and were burned by Alexander Radulov (and others before him).
This Sunday, there is a possibility Nichushkin is on the board at No. 4 overall when it is Nashville’s turn to pick. If that is the case, should they gamble on the Russian or bypass the headache that may ensue? Robby Stanley and Ryan Porth debate in a point/counterpoint…
There is no way the Predators should take Valeri Nichushkin with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Nashville has been down this road once before with Alexander Radulov. Sure, Nichushkin is a talented player with the ability to make an immediate positive impact on the Predators’ roster. However, the Predators should know better than any other team in the NHL that picking a player with a KHL background is a dangerous thing to do.
This is the first time Nashville has had a top-five selection in the draft since 1998 when they drafted David Legwand. Needless to say, the Predators don’t plan on being back in a similar draft position anytime soon. That’s why they cannot afford to risk such an important draft pick on a player that could potentially be a flight risk for the KHL.
Nichushkin has stated that he is willing to get out of his KHL contract and come over to try and make a roster spot next season with whatever NHL team drafts him. There’s an extremely high likelihood that what Nichushkin says is true, and that he will try to make the NHL next season. However, what will happen after his entry-level deal is completed and he’s faced with an opportunity to go back home to Russia to play in the KHL for big money? It’s going to be something that will at least cross his mind, and it is something he could seriously consider in the future.
The bottom line is that there is always going to be a question that looms with Nichushkin: Is he going to stay in North America?
Because of that question, the Predators simply cannot afford to take that kind of risk on a player that could potentially leave them with nothing to show for a fourth overall selection in what most people are calling the best draft class since the 2003 draft. This year’s pick should be about getting a talented player, yes, but it should also be about getting a player that you know can help your franchise for years to come.
I first present you this quote from Tampa Bay Lightning director of scouting Al Murray:
“(He had) maybe the most dominant performance that I have seen in a tournament, or as good a one at any of those Under-18 or World Junior tournaments … He absolutely took over the tournament. He was a combination of (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin.”
What have the Predators been missing since Day 1? A true game-changer. I’m not going to suggest other players who will be available at No. 4 aren’t game-changers, but when Nichushkin consistently gets compared to Ovechkin or Malkin or Rick Nash, it’s a sign that this kid could be a true impact player – the type of impact player Nashville has never had.
Robby is right. The Predators can’t afford to take a risk with this rare top-five pick. But they also need to hit a home run with the pick. Nichushkin may have the highest ceiling of anyone who would be available at No. 4. If he’s honest about playing in the NHL and the Predators have heard it directly from him, why wouldn’t they at least contemplate taking the 6-foot-4 power forward?
His size is another thing. He’s an 18-year-old manchild who, like Barkov, has already played against grown men pre-draft. And with his size he possesses great speed and the ability to make power moves to the net very much like Malkin and Nash (see here). Nichushkin’s scorer’s mentality would certainly be welcomed in Nashville.
For everything great you can say about Nichushkin, there are obviously as many risks. The KHL factor would always loom, just like it does for the Russian stars currently in the NHL. Some scouting reports suggest he can be too selfish at times, which Barry Trotz may not be too keen of.
But this is a player that scouts believe would be challenging for the No.1 overall pick if he didn’t have the Russian factor. If Nichushkin is the best player on the Predators’ board when they select at No. 4, it would not be a bad thing if they made an exception to their unwritten rule of not drafting Russians.