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Russia-born players look to impress in Traverse City

Stars' Denis Gurianov, Red Wings' Evgeny Svechnikov, Rangers' Pavel Buchnevich hope to use prospect tournament as springboard to NHL

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Of the 11 Russian-born prospects taking part in the Traverse City prospects tournament this week, three have solid chances of earning NHL roster spots this season.

Dallas Stars left wing Denis Gurianov (2015 NHL Draft, No. 12), Detroit Red Wings left wing Evgeny Svechnikov (2015, No. 19), and New York Rangers left wing Pavel Buchnevich (2013, No. 75) have shown flashes of dominance at certain points in their development, but more patience could be needed in order to build the type of player who might ultimately play a key role in an NHL lineup.

"It's a process for all these guys," Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. "For the Europeans, they've played on 200-by-100 [international-size rink], where it's bigger ice and more time to do things. Then they come over here and have to adjust and you just don't step into it and start ripping this game apart when there's all kinds of players out there who are fast."

NHL rinks are 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, 15 feet narrower than international ice surfaces.

Gurianov (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) had four goals and one assist in limited ice time in 47 games with Lada Togliatti in the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Stars management decided it was time to have him develop in North America, and he'll likely start this season with Texas of the American Hockey League.

"Honestly I still have to say thank you to the coaches who gave me a chance [in the KHL]," Gurianov said through an interpreter. "Maybe the minutes weren't there, but I still got the opportunity to play. Now I hope that I can come here and see more ice time and games. That's the whole idea. I understand that without game experience it's tough to develop."

Gurianov, 19, has done a little bit of everything in two games for the Stars in Traverse City. He has exhibited great speed on wing, showed a willingness to deliver big hits and has blocked a few shots. He has one assist, a plus-1 rating and six shots on goal.

"Through my experience and coaching career, it's easier to dial a guy back than trying to dial a guy up," Stars prospects coach Derek Laxdal said. "And from what I'm seeing from Denis, he has great compete and great speed. As long as he's doing the right things and getting to the net, the goals will come."

Laxdal, who also coaches Texas, is looking forward to building a relationship with Gurianov while implementing a development plan for him.

"We saw him at development camp for the first time and he's a big kid who skates well," Laxdal said. "The one thing that we really like is his feel and passion for the game. For some Europeans this is a feeling-out process. But even though this is his first time in North America, he's fitting right in."

Stars forward Devin Shore, who is serving as captain in Traverse City, was Gurianov's roommate at development camp in July.

"It looks like he's having fun," Shore said. "He has great speed and great skill and I think he can do a lot of things to help this organization. The language barrier is there a bit, but he's making a really strong effort to get better and you can notice he's improving. His character really shines through."

Svechnikov, 19, who is making his second straight appearance in Traverse City, is a lot more comfortable this year. He has one goal, a plus-1 rating and six shots on goal in two games.

"It was one of the hardest summers for me, training-wise," Svechnikov said. "I feel ready for the Traverse City tournament and for training camp."

Svechnikov (6-2, 199) likely will start the season with Grand Rapids, the Red Wings' AHL affiliate. He played in two AHL playoff games last season, after he had 32 goals and 79 points in 50 games with Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"I think I took a lot being in Grand Rapids for those two games," he said. "Watching and playing was a good step for me. I watched how they played and how the players moved the puck and themselves so quickly. Positioning is so important and I'm trying to work on that [in Traverse City]."

Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who is playing on the top line with Svechnikov in Traverse City, had plenty of praise.

"He has one of the hardest shots I've ever seen," Bertuzzi said. "He's physical, strong and works hard, and that's what you want in a linemate."

Many believe Buchnevich (6-1, 176) will challenge for a top-six role during training camp, but a more realistic expectation is he will begin the season in a bottom-six spot. In two games in Traverse City he has no points but seven shots on goal.

"He's been making plays on the power play and he's going to be a big power-play guy because he always seems capable of making that pass to the open man," Clark said. "Thing is, [Buchnevich], like any other young player, has to train like an NHL guy. He's finally done that for the first time."

After signing an entry-level contract May 13, Buchnevich, 21, began training twice a day and practicing twice a week at Prentiss Hockey Performance in Stamford, Connecticut.  

"We train a lot harder and different than they do over in the KHL," Clark said. "Pavel trained hard this summer and is stronger today than he was last year at this time because of that."

Buchnevich had 16 goals and 37 points in 58 games with SKA St. Petersburg and Severstal of the KHL last season. In parts of four seasons in the league he had 37 goals and 50 assists in 158 games.

"He's going to be given every shot," Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said. "He's obviously played in a men's league over in Russia. He played in the KHL against older, faster, stronger guys. The culture change of coming here, not only a new style of hockey but living in a new country, the new language is certainly real. But he is really committed to being here."

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