CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Valeri Nichushkin was cleared Monday by the NHL Player Assistance to return to practice with the Avalanche. While he’s not yet cleared for game action, the expectation is he will be soon.

“Valeri Nichushkin has been cleared to resume practicing with the team and has entered the follow-up care phase of the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program,” the NHL and NHLPA said in a joint press release. “Nichushkin has not yet been cleared to return to game action.”

Nichushkin is the second Avalanche player to enter and be cleared from the Assistance Program this season. Defenseman Samuel Girard was gone for roughly a month earlier in the season for the same reason. When he was cleared to skate, it took 10 days until he dressed for a game — granted the holiday break was sandwiched in between that stretch.

The Avs host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday at Ball Arena. Given that Nichushkin has yet to be cleared and is skating for the first time on the fourth line with Andrew Cogliano and Chris Wagner, he likely will not play against the Stars. Colorado then embarks on a two-game road trip through Chicago and Nashville before returning home for three games starting next Monday, March 4. It’s easy to assume he’ll be back during that homestand — potentially on March 4 against the Blackhawks.

Head coach Jared Bednar said Monday that Nichushkin will not travel with the team on the two-game road trip.

Deen’s Take

Nichushkin’s inevitable return is the first of multiple pieces needed to rebuild this Avalanche roster ahead of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Colorado is in dire need of depth forwards, a second-line center and potentially a backup goaltender, though Justus Annunen has played well in his two recent starts. They’re expected to get forward Nikolai Kovalenko at some point after his KHL season ends. Kovalenko’s Torpedo is headed to the postseason starting Thursday against a powerhouse SKA team. Last year the first round of the KHL playoffs ended on March 14.

It’s unclear where they turn to make those other additions just 11 days away from the March 8 trade deadline. But they’ve been linked to center Alexander Kerfoot (Arizona), center Nick Bjugstad (Arizona) and goalie Jake Allen (Montreal) in the past. Some of the names I’d consider before those are center Adam Henrique out of Anaheim and Nashville’s center Tommy Novak. It’s unclear at this time if Novak is on the market as Nashville continues to negotiate a contract extension with the 26-year-old pending UFA.

In goal, the Avs would be better suited to look at Washington’s Charlie Lindgren before considering Jake Allen. Like Allen, Lindgren is also under contract for another year, meaning they would have their goaltending duo figured out for next season regardless of which of those two names they acquire, if any. Lindgren has one year remaining at a manageable $1.1 million cap hit. With Allen, the Avs would need Montreal to retain 50% of his deal just to get him for barely under $2 million.

Lindgren’s name was not specifically named as an option but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned Monday morning on the Jeff Marek show that he wonders if the Caps trade a goalie to make space for American Hockey League goalie Clay Stevenson. The 24-year-old is 18-7-1 with six shutouts for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.