On the surface, Denis Gurianov still looks like a curious pick for draft nerds and fans. He was projected to go much later than 12th according to most scouting services. Bob McKenzie had him at 21. It’s no wonder then, that when it comes to players fans expect to push for playing time, like Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie, or Gemel Smith, Gurianov is often left out.
But his prospect tenure deserves closer inspection.
His troubles started in Russia after he was drafted. There he played 4th line minutes on one of the KHL's worst teams.
Derek Neumeier talked in depth about Gurianov’s issues in Russia following his draft year in 2015. He wasn’t producing. But that wasn’t to say he was underperforming given his circumstances.
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.
Luckily he terminated his contract with Lada Togliatti the following year. And made his trip to Cedar Park to play for the Texas Stars.
His season in the lone star state started out in similar fashion. He was buried on the 4th line. And I do mean buried.
Early on he spent time next to players like Mike McMurtry (an undrafted center from Northeastern University) who spent some time this season in the ECHL, and Branden Troock - a 5th round pick who also spent some time this season in the ECHL.
Keep in mind this pushed him to left wing. While Gurianov is a left shot, he’s a natural right winger. So in addition to the adjustment of coming over to a foreign land (a discussion that inspired quite the Twitter debate between Jonathan Willis and Slava Malamud), he also had to make adjustments to his game.
I’ll try to get through this nerdy stat rundown as quick as possible. All stats via prospect-stats. There are only 42 players 20 and under in the AHL. More often than not, these are special players. So keep that in mind as I comb over a few and compare Gurianov to those in his age bracket.
Despite Gurianov’s transition, he managed to average 1.68 shots per game in all situations, ranking just above Colin White, and just below Mikko Rantanen. At even strength, his estimated goals per hour sat at a sturdy .86; good for 12th (again, out of 42). His goals for while on ice (or GFol) at even strength for players in his age bracket was right in between Jesse Puljujarvi and Timo Meier - two highly touted prospects.
So despite playing the majority of the season in buried minutes, he still ended up top 10 in scoring for Texas.
He tallied 4 points on a power play he wasn’t a part of until very late in the season. If you look at other top rated prospects in his age group, that’s a far cry from the boost players like Kyle Connor (13), Evgeny Svechnikov (16), and Jack Roslovic (21) got.
So who exactly is this 2015 mystery reach from Togliatti?
Denis “the Menace” wows you with his skating first and foremost. His stride is, to these eyes at least, the perfection of an Elder guitar riff (I know, I can’t go more than two pieces without a doom metal reference).
One of the hallmarks of a great stride is the ability to shift center of gravity. Gurianov does this by bending his knees, allowing him to shuffle off his edges for maximum power in every step. As you can see, this means a bump won’t be enough to break that stride. He has an elite first step, meaning he reaches top speed with minimal movement.
Another feature is his puck handling. Gurianov combines his lenghty reach with soft hands, as you can see here (or anywhere) against the San Jose Barracuda defense.
There will undoubtedly be lazy comparisons to two people: Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Radulov (especially now that he's in Dallas).
As an aside, this is what I hate about player comparables. It's not just about the expectations it sets on the prospect. It's about the naunces left out to distinguish each player from the other.
Tarasenko is a better shooter for reasons that should be obvious to the avid viewer. He centers his game around positioning and posture, threatening from every angle. Radulov’s puck protection skills are elite, as this insightful breakdown attests to, and he's a playmaker with the vision to open up opportunities for his teammates.
These are, subsequently, the things Gurianov needs to work on the most. In the corners, he struggles to create space for himself and he’ll do the Antoine Roussel special: throwing the puck to the middle of the ice haphazardly in the offensive zone.
Then there’s his shot. He doesn’t struggle to lift the puck like Valeri Nichushkin (another lazy comparison that you’ll hear). His release is fairly dangerous in point of fact. Click to 1:33 of this highlight package against Sweden for proof. That’s not your typical clink off the post. That’s darn near an audible crack. Still, he doesn’t always have great positioning for his release. And while his shot is accurate, it’s not especially heavy, which allows goalies to corral the puck and gobble up the rebound.
Nonetheless, these are things can he work on. Luckily for him he’ll have a mentor up close in Radulov, who can teach him how to handle the puck better in close, among many other tactics. He’s got the open ice stuff figured out after all.
Gurianov has done anything but struggle when the opportunities were ripe for him, up against peers in his age group. At the U18 World Juniors, he scored 6 goals in 5 games. At the World Juniors this season, he was arguably Russia’s best player. And then there’s this:
Denis Gurianov on the penalty kill is fun to watch. Beats two guys and almost the goalie on a shorthanded rush. #txstars— 100 Degree Hockey (@100degreehockey) April 6, 2017
One hopes this is the PK of Dallas’ near future.
A player’s toughest minutes can be playing with inferior linemates; players unable to maximize a talent’s strengths, or forcing the more talented to do more than they think they should. His development was mired by this phenomenon early on. But by the end of season in Texas, Derek Laxdal had Gurianov playing all 200 feet, in all situations. I can’t quote Nate Diaz in full after he beat Conor McGregor at UFC 196. But if Gurianov is in Dallas sooner than you think, don’t be surprised.