It’s a huge X factor.

DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche stars dominated the headlines ahead of Game One of the Stanley Cup Final.

Valery Neshushkin She was dominant on the ice.

For starters, Nichushkin’s impressive all-around performance in Colorado’s 4-3 Game 1 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning — including a goal and assist in the Andrei BurakovskyThe winner of the game – perhaps surprising. He’s easily the highest-grossing skater in the series, hidden in the shadows Nathan McKinnon And the Gabriel Landskog.

Not anymore. Let’s look at Wednesday’s match as an upcoming party for Nichushkin, who has many fans in Avs’ dressing room, and whose value continues to climb.

Coach Jared Bednar said of Nikoshkin after the first game: “He’s a huge X factor, he’s had a great season so far. He’s been a squad-maker almost every night for us. For his ability to check, check pucks back to keep us playing offensively, he’s Saw him on display tonight. He had some good chances to score for himself, obviously playing big on the net to set [Burakovsky]. He was playing [well] With MacKinnon and Landeskog on that line.”

Colorado knew its depth would be tested when Nazim Qadri He was sidelined indefinitely due to a broken thumb he suffered in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Avalanche vowed that they would fill Qadri’s void by the committee. Nishushkin was the head of that committee.

After Kadri’s exit, Nisushkin rose to the top of Colorado and scored two goals in an avalanche victory in that competition. It has been primarily in this location ever since, for increasingly strong returns.

Colorado might expect Nesushkin to perform there. The 27-year-old had an active regular season, scoring 25 goals and 52 points in 62 matches. These were his highest totals in nearly a decade. On the avalanche stack team, no one really noticed.

Abroad, at least.

“It’s a long list of things for me,” Bednar said of what makes Nesushkin special. “He’s a good player in all respects, with or without a puck, and it’s hard to describe what he brings. … It’s hard to play against you when you’re committed to the way Val does. And then he has the ability to play with top talent, make plays and finish things off. It’s just so much to deal with.”

This was true throughout the playoffs, with Nichushkin scoring six goals and 11 points in 15 games while averaging an icy time of 20 minutes per game.

“Val is a big part of our team, our attacking game and our experimental game, and he helps us in all areas,” added Landskog. “He has been huge and keeps getting better and better which is a huge and important piece for us.”

Flying under the radar so far fits Nishushkin. But unlike those who slept on it, Nichushkin is fully awake to the opportunity.

It’s amazing,” Nichushkin said of playing with MacKinnon and Landeskog. “But you have to prove it in every game. You can’t get sleepy. I really like it.”

The idea that Nichushkin could become a high-ranking shareholder once seemed like a far-fetched dream. It was the Dallas Stars’ 10th overall pick of 2013 on an indirect – and often unhappy – journey to an avalanche. He even got him out of the NHL completely.

Colorado believed in Nesushkin’s potential. Together, they brought him back to prominence in the National Hockey League.

Nesushkin’s story is a tale of riches to rags (and back to riches).

Chosen by The Stars as a distinguished player in the KHL who made his debut in this league with his native Chelyabinsk Tractor at just 17 years old. That same season, he was a force for Russia at the IIHF World Junior Championships, capturing North American heads when he scored the winner in overtime against Canada to bring Russia a bronze medal.

Nichushkin was a 6-foot-4, 200-pound teenager believed to have used the entire “Forward Forward” package, with a high hockey IQ, speed, good hands, strong finish, and talent in the play industry.

All Nichushkin had to do was translate that game into the NHL.

He came out with a strong rookie season in 2013-14, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games. A frightening stagnation will follow in the second year. Nichushkin dealt with hip and thigh problems early in 2014-15, opting to have surgery previously which was limited to just eight matches. His third season was a disappointing 29-point lead.

When Nichushkin’s deal expired in 2016, he was upset enough in Dallas to sign a contract with CSKA Moscow and return to the KHL for two seasons. The Stars lured him back with a two-year, $5.9 million contract in July 2018. Nesushkin never lived up to the investment.

The Dallas do-over lasted one season. When Nichushkin failed to score in 57 games during the 2018-2019 season, the stars placed him in unconditional concessions and bought out the remainder of his deal.

Nichushkin was looking for another shot. Take the avalanche flyer.

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

Spoiler alert: I did.

We brought him in, Badnar said, and his self-confidence plummeted. “It has been built over the years and is [become] Such a huge part of our team. The things he does do not go unnoticed in our locker room and with all the other players. They know the role he can play in our success.”

Neshushkin always had the skill. What he needed was patience, and the right environment to thrive in. Colorado has provided both.

“It’s the system we’re playing, and what we’re kind of asking from our players on the defensive side of it [that’s] “Vale is a massive force,” Bednar said. “He is a big, tall, strong guy who can snowboard and fit our mold. The fights and races he can win fit his style.”

The winger slowly retooled his game with Avalanche, collecting 23 goals and 48 points in 120 games from 2019-21. Nichushkin was fine. It was solid.

This season, she graduated to a star. Even Bednar didn’t see that coming.

“I’m a little surprised by where he’s come in on his game,” Bednar admitted. “And on the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why this isn’t surprising to me. He’s found his place here. He started in our third streak, he’s moved into our second streak, and now he’s playing in our first streak. He’s earned every step in it. He’s so dedicated. , very motivated, does a lot of work and is one of the most hard working guys we have.”

This starts for Nichushkin in the gym. Bednar is among the last people to regularly leave Colorado facilities after cutting a video or getting ready for a game. But Nisushkin’s discipline often leaves him alone to turn off the lights.

“I’ll get out of the room and I’ll see Val come out of the room; he’s just finished lifting,” Bednar said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. And then even in the morning, he’s already here. He’s not injured, he doesn’t need treatment, but he’s here. He’s going to put some work into it. When you watch him work on it on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that he’s moved on.” “.

Bednar compares Nisushkin to McKinnon in accuracy and a hunger for improvement. Nesushkin’s colleagues are accustomed to seeing (and discussing) McKinnon’s level of concentration; Now they can put Nichushkin in the same category, too.

“Val is just a paid player,” defense Devon Toze He said. “He works really hard off the ice to prepare himself. In qualifying, he’s a strong, big body and plays the game hard. For a big guy who skates well, that’s kind of a lost art. You don’t.” We notice it often: a man of his size, with his mobility And protecting the pucks, he finds himself in great scoring areas and plays well for us.”

Colorado expects this cup final to be tough. Bednar admitted Friday that the avalanche has yet to see Tampa Bay’s best game.

The same can be said about Nishushkin. Suddenly his roof felt threatened. This could go a long way considering Kadri’s standing in the air. The injured center has resumed stick skating, but there is no word on his availability.

Which means Nichushkin should stay, vitally, in the top six in Colorado.

After a long road, is where it belongs.

“Val Horse” JT Comfier He said. He defends well. He skates well. He is physical. He uses his body. He is skilled. He got a really great shot. He did a great job giving us options throughout our squad. He plays the right way every night. It’s hard to play against him. He was a player. Very important for us all year round, especially in the post-season.”