- © Photo: Photo from Nichushkin's Instagram feed
© Photo: Photo from Nichushkin's Instagram feed
MOSCOW, May 23 (R-Sport) – After proclaiming last month he had no intention of jetting Russia for North America after the NHL draft in June, 18-year-old prospect Valeri Nichushkin had become the source of much hand-wringing among NHL teams.
Could the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes or Nashville Predators convince the presumptive top-five pick to forego the final two years of his KHL contract after an offseason trade from Traktor Chelyabinsk to Gagarin Cup champions Dynamo Moscow? Would Nichushkin, after playing 25 games in Traktor’s run to the playoff finals, be amenable to stints in the minor leagues before cracking an NHL roster?
The winger put the speculation to rest earlier this week, telling R-Sport exclusively his contract with Dynamo Moscow had been terminated, freeing him for a move to North America.
In the wide-ranging interview, the normally guarded Nichushkin discussed the notorious, reportedly $10 million May 1 trade, his ideal employer in the NHL and his decision to skip offseason training.
- Have you made a decision on where you'll spend next season? With Dynamo or in the NHL?
"I've already made up my mind that I'm leaving. At Dynamo they've been pretty calm about it. I was told that I can leave if I want. There are no legal problems with that at all. My contract with Dynamo has been terminated, and I'm leaving as a free agent. I'm lucky that the club has met me half way on this. We've agreed that they'll release me, but if something goes wrong across the ocean, I'll come straight back."
- What role did finances play in your decision? You could probably have earned a lot more at Dynamo that with an NHL entry-level contract, which is capped at $925,000.
"If I'm honest, Dynamo isn't event offering that much."
- That's funny, because some reports put the offer at $2 million per season. What about the figure for your transfer from Traktor Chelyabinsk?
"$10 million? That's definitely way out, believe me. I would disclose the exact figure, but I promised not to."
- Have you figured out this whole episode of your trade from Traktor to Dynamo?
"I don't really understand Dynamo's position in all this. It's as if they don't really need me. Why would they take me from Traktor? ... It all looks as if they took me, and now they don't know what to do with me. Next season I want to play at full pelt, and not sit in the fourth line."
- Did you know anything about your proposed move to Dynamo before losing 4-2 in the Gagarin Cup final?
"Oleg Znarok (Dynamo head coach) and someone else from Dynamo told me during the handshake after game six that next season I would be playing for them. For me, this wasn't a shock. In hockey, all this is quite acceptable; I don't see anything criminal in it. I don't have any problem with it, I'm sure I'll be traded plenty more times in the future."
- What were your first thoughts after losing that decisive game six?
"Just about how we contrived to lose, but nothing about next season."
- Did anyone at Traktor discuss your trade with you?
"Yes, the club director Vladimir Krechin called me as soon as the first news of broke. He explained the situation."
- You’ve said you are flying to New York on Thursday. You're going to spend several days there before the NHL scouting combine in Toronto?
"Yes, on Saturday, I'll attend a football match between Man City and Chelsea at Yankees Stadium. Then, I'll fly to Toronto where I'll talk to [NHL] teams for four days. For the next two days I'll do the physical tests."
- Have you prepared for them?
"No, I've done nothing."
"I want to come to the season in top shape. I don't train so I won't complain about fatigue during the season. To be honest, I don’t care about these tests. It’s more important for me to talk to the teams. That's my only goal."
- Will you return to Russia after the tests?
"No, I will stay in the USA till the draft. I'll start to prepare for the season at a special camp."
- Do you dream of being picked in the top three on draft day?
"The most important thing is to be picked by the team than really needs you. Of course, I’d like to be chosen among the first players, because it’s more honorable. But it would be better if I’m picked by the team that wanted to see me on their first line."
- Pundits are calling American defenseman Seth Jones to be the favorite for the No. 1 draft pick. What do you know about him?
"He is one year older than me. I’ve often played against him on the national team. For example, at the last world junior championships. You can call him a born defenseman. He has great physical stature, high IQ, great shot – everything he needs. I think he deserves being picked first overall."
- Have American scouts already swamped you with calls?
(Laughing)"Once, I said in an interview that they had already annoyed me with the calls, and they stopped doing it. Now, they don’t bother me much."
- What teams have you already talked to?
"I know that Tampa Bay and Nashville want to choose me. A lot of teams just think that I will be picked before their turn comes. I also hope that one of the first five teams will pick me."
- Tampa, who pick third, claimed they were ready to take you, if you promised to play in the NHL next season.
"We’ll see. NHL has a fair share of cunning people. Everything may change a hundred times. We’ll see how it goes."
- In an earlier interview, you said that your favorite teams are the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. What is it about those teams?
"As a child, when I played computer games I always chose Philadelphia. Now I also play with them on my console. And why the Rangers, I don’t even know. Probably, because they're based in New York. But after the draft, my favorite team will be the one that picks me."
- Are you ready for the number of interviews you’ll have to give overseas before, during and after the draft?
(Smiling)"Yes, I’ve already been warned. I'll talk, I’m in no hurry."
- Did you go somewhere to relax after the under-18 world championship [in April]?
"Last week I got back from Turkey, where I went for two weeks with (former Traktor teammate) Maxim Shalunova and (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk prospect) Bogdan Yakimov. We rested and spent all our time in the swimming pool."
- You had the tattoo on your chest done in Turkey?
"No, in Chelyabinsk. What’s the picture? It’s a Maori warrior mask."
- When did you get the idea?
"I’ve always had it. And May is the time to do it as during the season you accumulate many ideas. This is only the beginning. I’ll definitely do more tattoos in the future."
This interview, translated from Russian, has been edited for clarity and length.