A 20-year-old eclipsed the greatest player in Dallas Stars history & a Hall of Famer

Although they are the primary beneficiary, no one from the Dallas Stars celebrated that one of the best players for the Colorado Avalanche is out for the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A person the Stars invested so much in only to see him become the player they envisioned but in Denver rather than in Dallas.

While Avs forward Valeri Nichushkin’s career, and life, took a hard left turn towards a scary unknown, a Stars kid continues to hit.

The day before he celebrated his 21st birthday, Stars center Wyatt Johnston all but ended the Avalanche..

In Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night in Denver, Johnston scored the game’s first two goals as the Stars won 5-1. The Stars now lead the series 3-1, and can close it out on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.

This series should have ended on Monday night. A series that looked to be so close on paper has played out to be anything but on the ice.

The Avalanche have yet to lead a second of this series; they won Game 1 in overtime.

Monday night was the case of what can go so right, and so wrong, with the talented first round draft pick.

Both Nichushkin and Johnston were first round draft picks of the Stars. Both “made it,” but only one has delivered for the Stars.

About 90 minutes before the start of Game 4, the NHL Player’s Association released a statement that Nichushkin was “placed in Stage 3 of the Player Assistance Program of the NHLPA and NHL.

“Under the terms of the joint program, Nichushkin will be suspended without pay for a minimum of six months and then will be eligible to apply for reinstatement.”

This is likely a result of a failed drug test. The timing of the news surprised people within the Stars’ organization; who expects such a thing now, in the middle of the playoffs?

That Nichushkin has another “off ice” issue was of zero surprise.

The news is a cross-check to the face of the Avs’ chances this postseason. Nichushkin has scored nine goals with 10 points in these playoffs.

The sad part is that this news comes at a time when, on the ice, it had all come together for Nichushkin. He is 29, and, as a player, what the Stars envisioned when they selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2013.

Big, Talented. Fast. Strong. Skilled.

When they made that pick, it was with the agreement that they would promote the Russian to the NHL immediately. No minor leagues. It was never a question of talent or ability. It was always a concern of maturity.

When they released him, after the 2018-’19 season, there was plenty of disappointment that such a pick yielded so little, but no hard feelings for the person. Both parties needed to move on.

Colorado signed him, and he steadily improved and became a big piece to its Stanley Cup-winning team, in 2022.

The year before, in the 2021 NHL amateur draft, the Stars used the 23rd overall pick on Johnston.

He is built nothing like Nichushkin, but Johnston is delivering the way the team a silently prays when they invest a first round pick on a player.

Since scoring a goal in his first NHL game as a teenager, Johnston has always looked the part even if he looks like a young kid. Because that’s what he is.

On Monday night, he continued to amass numbers and records that happen with the frequency of the Northern Lights being visible in North Texas.

In the first period of Game 4, Johnston set a new Dallas Stars record for the most playoff goals by a player before his 21st birthday. His 10th career playoff goal beat the mark of nine set by Brian Bellows and ... Mike Modano.

No word on the Wyatt Johnston statue.

If that Hall of Fame name doesn’t do it for you, there are more. In the history of the NHL, the only players to score more playoff goals before their 21st birthday are Jaromir Jagr (14), Jordan Staal (13), Jeremy Roenick and Brent Sutter (12).

Johnston’s production will receive the notoriety for the Stars, but since the start of Game 2 this series hasn’t been a series. Since Game 1, the Stars have outscored the Avs 14-5.

Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen has been the best player in the series; Colorado’s speed and skill have been neutered by the Stars defense, and goalie Jake Oettinger.

On Monday night, the Stars were able to celebrate around a kid who just celebrated his 21st birthday. When your first round draft pick hits like this, everyone sips the champagne.

The Stars only had to look at the other team to remember what can happen when the first round pick falls flat.