Talk to people with the Dallas Stars in Traverse City for the NHL Prospect Tournament and a lot of them will tell you seeing forward Denis Gurianov play was high on their list.
Gurianov, the team's first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft is making the jump from Russia to North America this season. There hasn't been a lot of opportunity to see him play recently. He saw limited playing time in Russia's KHL last season, and he missed out on playing at the 2016 World Junior Championship. So, Traverse City was a great opportunity for Stars management, coaches and scouts to get a good look at Gurianov in a highly competitive environment.
"This is good, especially after we were unable to see him an awful lot last year," said Joe McDonnell, Stars director of amateur scouting. "Last year was a wasted year for us scouting-wise seeing him and a wasted year for himself. It's been nice [to see him] here and at development camp."
And Gurianov has made a good impression in his first two games in Traverse City. He's been as advertised with his speed and skill, and he's shown more. He's been good on the backcheck, he's shown a willingness to block shots and he's played with a physical edge, throwing some good hits.
"When we first drafted him [the physical edge] was one of the biggest things that we saw in him along with his size and his skating and skill," McDonnell said.
Gurianov, who is listed at 6-3, 200 pounds, has played in all situations during the tournament, including the power play and penalty kill. It's a glimpse of what Gurianov can expect to see with the Texas Stars of the AHL, where he most likely will play this season.
"We used him in every role he is going to play for us in Texas if he ends up there," said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who is coaching the Dallas prospects in Traverse City. "I like the fact that he was willing to block a shot. I like the fact that he's got a little edge to his game. He's got great speed. We've got to maybe refine his scoring ability a little bit. He seems a little wild just throwing pucks, but that comes with experience and just polishing your game. I like what he did. He is going to be an exciting player."
But it's going to take some time for the 19-year-old Gurianov. He's been in North America a short time and still has to get used to living here and playing the North American game. The process is just underway and these four games in Michigan are part of it.
"It was a good game, a fast game, a lot of checking, a lot of speed," Gurianov said of his first game at the tournament through translator Stan Tugolukov, Stars player relations coordinator. "I like fast hockey, I like our puck movement, and I like creativity."
One of the things the Stars like about Gurianov is his attitude and his desire to make it to the NHL. Laxdal described the young forward as "coachable."
"On the bench, he is looking for coaching," Laxdal said. "I like his character. I like his persona. He is willing to learn."
And Gurianov seems to soak in what the coaches tell him. When asked about his willingness to block shots, he had this to say.
"Coaches ask the things to do, and I am trying to do the best," he said. "I am not afraid to block shots. I just try to do what the coach is asking."
Teammates have tossed praise Gurianov's way as well. Forward Devin Shore, who is the captain of the Dallas prospect team, roomed with Gurianov during development camp and while the two were skating in Frisco prior to the tournament.
"He's a great guy. He's got a ton of speed, a ton of skill," Shore said. "The greatest thing about him is the language barrier is there, but you can tell the character that he's got. You can tell the way he plays. He backchecks, he blocks shots. He is encouraging on the bench, and he wants his teammates to do well."
Gurianov spent almost the entire summer in Dallas living with a host family and adapting to life in the United States. He did work on and off the ice and returned home for one week to visit his family in Russia. In the days leading up to Traverse City he was skating and working out with several Dallas Stars players.
He is working hard at learning English. Living with a host family helped get him immersed in the language. He has a tutor and watching television helps as well.
"The last two weeks trying to do as many lessons as possible with the tutor," Gurianov said. "Watching TV shows, comedy shows. They've got [Russian] subtitles, so that helps."
Although Gurianov still prefers to conduct media interviews through a translator, he's obviously made a lot of progress with his English. Enough progress to act as his own PR guy in Traverse City. When approached for an interview by one reporter, he declined in English and scheduled it the next day with a translator. During one interview he bypassed the translator when asked how it was going with the new language.
"Eh, not bad," he said in English.
As for the Stars, it's been all good with Gurianov in Traverse City. Like any young prospect, he's got some work to do, but the Stars believe he is headed in the right direction.
"He's been good. He's big, strong and he can skate. He's got it all," McDonnell said. "His English is getting better. It's just a matter of growing into everything. It's just going to take him some time."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.