MOSCOW, May 22 (R-Sport) – Dynamo Moscow coaches are bracing themselves for the possibility prized prospect Valeri Nichushkin will move to North America next season if selected in June's NHL entry draft.
The 18-year-old wing was acquired earlier this month from Traktor Chelyabinsk for a reported $10 million, ending weeks of speculation Nichushkin would transfer to the reigning Gagarin Cup champion before the 2013-2014 season.
Dynamo assistant coach Harijs Vitolins told R-Sport on Wednesday it would not shock him if Nichushkin, a presumptive top-five draft pick, leaves for the NHL. The teenager is expected to appear at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto next week.
“Such is life,” Vitolins said. “Someone leaves the team, someone comes. We’ll see if Valeri remains in Russia or not. For Dynamo, he’s a plus.”
The 6’3”, 201-pound power forward had six points in 18 games for Traktor after a late-season call up and scored six goals in 25 games during their run to the Gagarin Cup finals.
Scouts have been impressed with Nichushkin's muscular play on the forecheck and agility on the wing – uncommon for a player his size – with some suggesting he was the best player at the under-18 championship in Sochi last month, despite Russia’s disappointing fourth-place finish.
As Russia’s captain, Nichushkin finished with seven points in six games, including one goal and one assist in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Americans in the semifinals.
Still, a move to the NHL for the 2013 season is hardly inevitable.
While Nichushkin was recently named the draft’s second-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting, the Chelyabinsk native told reporters at the under-18 championship he plans to play the final two years of his KHL contract in Russia.
He also said, somewhat controversially, he would delay a move to North America if it meant playing in a major junior league before suiting up for an NHL club.
Nichushkin’s current KHL contract will also become a matter of concern for whichever NHL team drafts him as there is no transfer agreement between the two leagues.
Nichushkin has two years remaining on a three-year pact he originally signed with Traktor and reports have circulated in Russian media his 2013 salary could reach $2 million. He would have to buy out the next two seasons in order to leave Dynamo.
Team president Arkady Rotenberg, meanwhile, refuted the $2-million rumors on Wednesday but declined to reveal Nichushkin’s salary.
“There are no crazy salaries [on Dynamo],” Rotenberg told R-Sport. “The salaries on Dynamo are pretty moderate, compared to other KHL clubs.”