On Tuesday it was announced, as shared in a FanShot by Defending Big D's Taylor Baird, that Denis Guryanov, the Dallas Stars' 1st round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been named to Team Russia's selection camp roster for the 2016 World Junior Championship.
While he hasn't officially made the team yet, it's strongly assumed that Guryanov will be on his home nation's roster in Helsinki at the end of December, due in large part to being Russia's best player in this past summer's IIHF U18 tournament and having a good showing at the Hockey Canada National Teams' Summer Showcase in August. Highlights of all of his goals from the former can be found here, while a single game's highlights from the latter can be found here, including a Guryanov breakaway chance that begins around the 7:35 mark.
Boxing Day probably can't come soon enough for Guryanov, however, as his season so far in the KHL has been anything but idyllic. He's played in 29 games for his hometown team, Lada Togliatti, but only has two goals, one assist and a -6 rating to show for it.
For a player that was just drafted 12th overall, those numbers are certainly concerning. Making matters worse, whether fairly or not, is that Guryanov was something of an off-the-board pick for the Stars, who selected him ahead of other players such as Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor that were more highly-ranked by most scouting services.
So, what's going on here? Let's unpack this a little.
First of all, the primary reason why Guryanov's numbers are so bad is ice time. He's averaging only 10:24 TOI per game, which ranks 16th out of 17 skaters on his team. In other words, he's been stuck in primarily a 4th line role.
Figuring out why he's getting so little ice time is a better, but harder to answer, question. The KHL is a strange, foreign league, and for the wide majority of us that don't speak Russian (or, you know, Latvian or Finnish or other languages that are dominant for some KHL cities) we're struck relying on little more than stereotyped rumors: Russian coaches are stubborn and don't change their lines when they should, Russian coaches are always biased towards veteran players at the expense of younger players, and so on. Although, where there's smoke there's often fire, and for a country that's had some notoriously bad coaching decisions in big international games it seems fair to give these stereotypes at least a little bit of attention in this particular instance, and I'll soon explain why.
What we can deduce from the wonderful universal language of numbers, however, is a little more telling.
In terms of shots-per-game, Guryanov is averaging 1.6, which puts him 5th out of 17 forwards for Lada. This is important because Lada is an awful, awful offensive team this season. They have the second fewest goals in the KHL, and the fewest total shots by a humongous difference of over 100(!) compared to the next worst team.
In other words: Lada has some serious, catastrophic trouble getting shots on net, but still, for whatever reason, refuses to give more ice time to one of their best shot-generating players. Maybe Guryanov's defensive issues (noted and reported around the time of the draft) justify his lack of ice time, but it certainly appears that he's not being utilized very effectively by his coaching staff, and that he would probably be producing a lot more points if he were, for example, getting more ice time in sheltered offensive zone starts and maybe some regular powerplay time
Additionally, Guryanov's shooting percentage is currently 4.3% (or, in other words, in Johnny Oduya territory), so it seems like some good ol' fashioned bad luck is probably in play as well.
There's a lot of mystery as to just what kind of player the Stars drafted in Guryanov, even to dedicated prospect nerds like myself. The lack of accessible information available on European prospects compared to players coming up through North American junior leagues makes any kind of remote prospect evaluation very difficult.
All that being said, my advice is this: keep a close eye on Guryanov at this year's World Juniors. Playing against his closest hockey peers in the spotlight of a major international tournament will give everyone the best chance, even if it's just a small sample size, to see what kind of player the Stars have on their hands in their newest first round draft choice.