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Can Denis Gurianov Make the NHL Roster?

Thought to be a shoe-in for the AHL this year, the 2015 first-rounder has been turning heads so far this preseason.

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NHL: Preseason-Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When most Dallas Stars fans think of Denis Gurianov, they can’t help but think of who was picked after him in the 2015 draft. They think about Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor as the ones who “got away” from the Stars, players who have gone on to have fantastic rookie campaigns while Gurianov has been getting healthy scratched in the Calder Cup playoffs.

But let’s put aside those comparison for now. For better or worse, the Stars picked Gurianov with their 1st round pick. Fans should forget about Barzal and Connor and instead focus on how Gurianov is doing.

And to be honest? The young Russian has been looking pretty good lately.

It first started with reports of Gurianov looking impressive in training camp, including two goals in the team scrimmage. He didn’t play in the team’s first preseason game, but has played in all three games since, scoring a point each night. And when asked about the forward sometime after his second game, Stars head coach Jim Montgomery had nothing but positive things to say:

“I think he has with his play the last two games,” Montgomery said when asked if Gurianov has put himself on the bubble for a roster spot. “We actually thought he was better last night than he was in Minnesota. Credit to him. He’s earned the right to still be here.

”He just needs to continue to impress and have an impact on the game. He’s having an impact. He is pretty dynamic out there, and he has the ability to score goals. If you can score goals, we’re going to find a place for you.”

Considering Gurianov was considered by many to be a lock for the AHL roster this year, these comments come as a welcome surprise to Stars fans. If he keeps this pace up, there’s no way he doesn’t make the NHL team, right?

Well, let’s pump the brakes a little bit. First of all, as we’ve touched upon before, waivers could play a big part in who ends up making the final cuts. Excluding Martin Hanzal, who will surely start the season on LTIR, the Stars have 14 forwards who are waiver eligible and are likely to make the roster. For Gurianov to make the team, the Stars would have to waive a forward like Remi Elie, Gemel Smith, or Brett Ritchie.

Given that both Elie and Smith have been exposed on waivers in the past, it’s reasonable to believe that the Stars would be willing to try and sneak one or both down to the AHL in order to make room on the roster for Denis Gurianov and/or fellow rookie Roope Hintz. On the other hand, Jim Nill has proven to be one to try and hold onto his assets for arguably too long rather than risk losing them for nothing on the waiver wire, as we saw with players like Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth. It’s why the team carried eight defenseman for a year (and a quarter), and it’s reasonable to believe Nill would follow the same philosophy here.

So in order to make the NHL roster, Gurianov would have to likely blow Montgomery and Nill away, making it so they had no choice but to keep him with the big club. And therein lies the second problem Gurianov is facing, which can be summed up in three simple tweets:

Notice it yet? Despite all the praise Gurianov has been receiving lately, Montgomery has yet to slot him higher than the fourth line in the lineup. He’s been making the most out of his lesser ice time and different caliber of linemates— no offense to legit players like Justin Dowling and Jason Dickinson — but outside of some power play time, he hasn’t really been given a chance to steal the show.

Compare this to fellow rookie Roope Hintz, who started last night on the first line between Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Ironically, Hintz actually got less ice time than Gurianov throughout the game, but he also picked up a goal and an assist while playing among some of Dallas’ top players. He was given an opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL, and he performed admirably.

Now, I’m not trying to turn this into some sort of Hintz vs. Gurianov debate. Instead, I simply believe that Gurianov should be given the same chance to produce in the team’s Top 6. And with three preseason games left, it’s possible that we end up seeing Seguin and Gurianov on the top line tomorrow against Colorado. On the other hand, Montgomery could view those games as a chance to test chemistry between forwards and iron out his Top 6 for the regular season, in which case both Hitnz and Gurianov could be left out.

Long story short, can Denis Gurianov make the NHL roster? Absolutely he can. He’s been more impressive in each game he’s played, and he’s arguably (Ed. note: very arguably, as we’ll see soon) one of Dallas’ best 14 forwards right now. On the other hand, he’s a waivers-exempt player on a team that doesn’t like to expose players to waivers, and he hasn’t been given the opportunity yet to pull himself away from the pack.

Still, whether Gurianov is in Dallas on opening night or in Cedar Park, one thing is for certain: it’s too early to use the “b word” on Gurianov. Sure, it’s just the preseason, but the young Russian is finally starting to show the glimpses of talent and skill that made the Stars pick him 12th overall several years ago.