Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Danil Gushchin grew up admiring former Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk.
Raised in Datsyuk's hometown of Yekaterinburg, Russia, the 17-year-old forward attended a camp coached by his idol, and even had a chance to discuss hockey with him.
"He's good to speak to," Gushchin said. "He helps you."
Those conversations helped Gushchin, a forward with Muskegon in the United States Hockey League, raise his game, which has him No. 37 in NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft.
Datsyuk left the NHL in 2016 with two Stanley Cup championships (2002, 2008) and 918 points (314 goals, 604 assists) in 953 games through 14 seasons with the Red Wings. Gushchin won't say if he thinks he can match those accomplishments, but he doesn't lack confidence.
"I can shoot. Can pass. Can skate," he said. "That's my game, I think."
Considered a potential second- or third-round selection by NHL Central Scouting, Gushchin (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) compared his game more to Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau than Datsyuk.
"Same size, like small. Smart guys," Gushchin said. "Can pass and shoot. Faster skaters. I like that."
Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said Gushchin shouldn't be compared to any one current NHL player. He works best with the puck, Hamilton said, and Muskegon does its best to make sure he has it as often as possible.
"He's a guy that wants the puck all the time," Hamilton said. "His skill is very high-end, so he's improved his speed and his strength quite a bit. … he's a guy that's dangerous anytime the puck's on his stick. He can go and create offense. He's got an unbelievable shot. … The more the puck's on his stick, the more success we're going to have."
Gushchin leads Muskegon with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games this season. He has matched his goal total of last season in 20 fewer games, and is five behind the 36 points he had last season (36).
It wasn't guaranteed Gushchin would play a second season with Muskegon. He was the No. 7 pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft by Regina of the Western Hockey League, but decided to stay in the USHL.
Gushchin was told if he were to choose Muskegon, he would receive more shifts.
"I and my family say, 'Yes, thank you for this,'" Gushchin said.
Looking back, Hamilton called it a compliment for a prospect of Gushchin's caliber to remain with Muskegon. He also said it has helped ther rest of the team because Gushchin's work ethic is contagious.
That would translate at the NHL level, Hamilton said.
"He is the first guy here and the last guy to leave on a daily basis," Hamilton said. "That's one thing that's infectious across the room. … It's one of those things that has made us a better organization by having a guy like him around that truly is a professional in how he eats, how he trains and how he takes care of his body."
That doesn't mean every aspect of Gushchin's game is where he'd like it to be. He wants to improve defensively, as is common with a young forward, and Hamilton said he thinks that's coming along.
"He's continuing to work on dissecting and picking up the right guys on backchecks," Hamilton said. "It's an area that he's continuing to improve on. I wouldn't necessarily call it a weakness; I'd call it an area of opportunity for him."
Gushchin said he hopes he'll get to show how much work he has put in, but added the thought of the extra attention makes him anxious.
"It's a little hard, you know," he said. "There are so many scouts. They watch you, how you play on all shifts. I'm a little nervous, but it's OK. Every guy is doing this. I can get better."
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