Dallas Stars rookie and former KHL Rookie of the Year Valeri Nichushkin won't play for Team Russia in the first game of the in the men's hockey tournament at Sochi Olympics, coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov announced on Wednesday. Russia will also not play center Alexander Sitov, who is seen as a possible replacement for Pavel Datsyuk.
Nichushkin, selected No. 10 overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 NHL Draft, was a controversial selection to the Russian squad when the teams were announced back in January. The Russian coach stated at the time that the selection of Nichushkin was "advance payment" and that he would have to justify his selection to the team to earn ice time during the tournament.
The young power forward is easily the youngest player on the team and at just 18 years old is the youngest player in the men's tournament in Sochi. Nichushkin has enjoyed a successful start to his NHL career with Dallas, scoring 13 goals and 28 points through 55 games while playing on the Dallas Stars top line.
Russia is under intense pressure to succeed on their home soil in Sochi, and it's likely that Nichushkin won't see much ice time depending on the performances and injuries faced by his team during the tournament. The young phenom has limited international hockey experience and given the skill on display from other countries in the Olympics, it's no surprise that the Russia coach would decide to stick with experience -- at least to start off with.
Russia opens up group play against Slovenia on Thursday.