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Gurianov's drive to learn key in rookie's fast rise with Stars

The young winger has found his stride offensively and is quickly becoming one of Dallas' most dangerous weapons

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas -- The Assimilation of Denis Gurianov might be a good movie someday.

The 22-year-old Stars forward is an interesting individual in that he already has done a great deal of secondary schooling in Russia, he still is trying to learn English here in Texas, and he is fast becoming one of Dallas' most dangerous players.

Gurianov has four goals in the past seven games, including breakaway tallies in each of the past two contests. He sits fourth on the Stars with 13 goals and ranks third among all rookies in goal scoring.

"His speed is obvious," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. "He can make plays at top speed. A lot of guys with that top speed have to slow down a little when they try to get a shot off, so that's a great skill. It's his first full year, and he'll just keep getting better."

The Stars have some experience in this process.

Last season, Roope Hintz started the year in the NHL and then twice was returned to the AHL for more seasoning. In the end, he worked his way into a regular position and led the Stars with five playoff goals in 13 games. This season, he leads Dallas during the regular season with 15 tallies.

Both Hintz, 23, and Gurianov rely heavily on their speed to create chances, and both have had to work through the mental game to get comfortable with their promotions.

"It's confidence," said 24-year-old Jason Dickinson, who has played with both Hintz and Gurianov in the AHL as well as the NHL. "I said the same thing with Roope last year: Once they find the confidence, it all comes together. You watch Denis and you see he has the tools and the ability -- he's as fast as anyone in this league, and he can shoot a puck extremely well, and he just needed the confidence.

"His confidence is through the roof right now, and you can see the results."

Video: TBL@DAL: Gurianov races past defender and scores

Gurianov still struggles to communicate the nuances of his game in English, and said that he really is sticking to a simple mindset when it comes to game plan.

Asked if he's gaining confidence, Gurianov said: "I don't think about how many games I've played or how many goals I've scored. When I go to a new game, it's a new experience for me. I just want to help my team."

To help his team, he said he has to be a part of the big picture and he has to create his offensive chances from his defensive play. That's been the mantra of the Stars all season, and Gurianov says he is bought in.

"I'm still learning, still working to try to play defensively first," he said. "If the defense is great, the offense is great. If we play good defensively, we will have chances in the offensive zone. I agree with that."

The philosophy fits Gurianov, who has shown the ability to take a turnover and almost instantly make it a scoring chance. That said, his ability to read play and make consistently good decisions defensively has been a work-in-progress, and one of the reasons Gurianov ranks 11th among Stars forwards in average time on ice at 12:50 per game.

Bowness said he is seeing progress in Gurianov, and that's one reason the winger played 17:48 Wednesday in a 5-3 loss to Toronto. Yes, the Stars were trailing and needed Gurianov's scoring prowess to help get back a needed goal, but they also saw some promise when he backchecked on the power play and broke up a shorthanded breakaway.

"He recognized what was happening and he used his speed to break it up," Bowness said when asked if that play helps build trust in Gurianov's ability to be a good defensive forward. "It's his first full year, and he'll just keep getting better."

Asked again on Thursday about how far Gurianov is coming, Bowness said he likes the progress because he wants to use Gurianov more.

"He's more reliable. He's a young forward and we've got to keep working with him. He's coming a long way and we need him to do that, because we need him to play big minutes," Bowness said. "He's a coachable kid. It's not a natural instinct for him, but we'll get him there."

Gurianov's history is that he likes to learn. He worked his way through Togliatti State University in Russia with many of his classes online while he has been playing hockey. He said he has studied mostly law classes with the idea that he could use that information in sports management at some point in the future.

"My school was fun," he said. "I still talk with my classmates. It's nice."

Gurianov said he believes that learning is important not only for a possible future career but also to keep his mind sharp.

"It's not just hockey. It helps your brain, of course," he said. "Your brain is working better. Like one side is hockey, but you've got to do something so your brain works on other side."

Asked if his university studies ever cross over to the ice, he joked.

"Like physics?" he said with a smile. "Like when you pass puck off the boards."

It was a glimpse into another interesting aspect of the talented athlete -- his unique sense of humor.

Video: TOR@DAL: Gurianov splits defenders for pretty goal

"Yeah, he is funny," Dickinson said. "He's a really quirky kid. His English took a little while, and I think some of his learning was through repeating things that guys were saying -- y'know the stupid jokes we say to each other. And then he would get them wrong or didn't understand what he was saying when he was telling jokes, and that made it even funnier.

"Now, he does understand it, and he's actually even funnier with it."

Just another layer of the Gurianov onion that is only starting to be peeled.

Asked once again about the defensive potential of his rookie winger, Bowness gave another example of just how intriguing Gurianov can be.

"Denis is very coachable," Bowness said. "He doesn't kill penalties, but every time I'm running a penalty-kill meeting, the first guy in there is Denis because he wants to learn."

That's a great attribute, and it's just one more twist in The Assimilation of Denis Gurianov, which will surely be coming to theaters pretty darn soon.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Minnesota Wild when they return home to American Airlines Center on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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