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Is Gurianov on brink of being Stars' next breakthrough player?

With four goals in five games, the young winger looks to be following in footsteps of teammate Hintz

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Individuals are individuals, so it's probably not the smartest thing in the world to compare two different players, but it's what we like to do as sports observers.

Especially when the two players seem to have similar skillsets and might be following similar paths.

Roope Hintz last season was twice sent to the AHL when it looked like he had stalled in his rookie season in the NHL. However, he worked hard, returned, and then was one of the Stars' best players in the playoffs. This season, he is leading the team in scoring with nine goals and has taken a huge step forward.

Hintz, 22, was a second-round pick in 2015 who has size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and speed. That's why it's easy to compare him to Denis Gurianov, 22, who was the team's first-round pick in 2015 and also has size (6-3, 200) and speed.

Gurianov was just so-so in training camp and preseason and then was sent to the minors after the first three games of the season. He had a hat trick in his first game back in the minors and was recalled after two AHL contests, and now he looks like a completely different player.

Gurianov on Saturday had two goals and now has four goals and an assist in his past five games. He looks like he's following a very similar path to Hintz.

Video: MTL@DAL: Gurianov goes five-hole on a penalty shot

"Roope broke out last year, Denis is what we wanted and what we hoped," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said after Saturday's 4-1 win over Montreal in which Gurianov had seven shots on goal and was selected first star of the game. "Those two are special to watch right now."

What's important is that both Hintz and Gurianov are developing together. Montgomery has reassembled the top line of Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. That trio was fantastic last season, but didn't get much support in depth scoring from the other three lines. In the playoffs, Hintz and Jason Dickinson helped create a strong second line, which allowed the Stars to play their best hockey of the season.

Now, Hintz and Gurianov are providing a second line along side Joe Pavelski, while Dickinson is having success with Mattias Janmark and Corey Perry on the third line. On Saturday, the FCC line (copyright, Daryl Reaugh, Inc.) was reunited with Radek Faksa, Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau, and they also looked great.

"There's a comfort level there," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said of the FCC line. "You get excited to play because you know you can be in the same spot and know where everybody is."

Gurianov is starting to get that sensation with Hintz. On the play that led to Gurianov's penalty shot, Hintz banked a fabulous long pass off the wall to spring Gurianov on a breakway that drew a penalty. Later in the third period, Hintz drew everyone to him on a rush down the right wing, and then smoothly wrapped a backhand pass to Gurianov on the left wing for the game-clinching power play goal.

"I was waiting for that, because he is a smart player and he sees the ice well," Gurianov said. "I was waiting for that, and we were practicing that in practice."

While the time together in the NHL is just getting started, Gurianov and Hintz have played together at times in the AHL and have built chemistry there. Gurianov said the entire line with Pavelski has fit together easily.

Video: MTL@DAL: Gurianov converts Hintz's feed for PPG

"I just like to play with them," Gurianov said. "They are both smart players and I also played with Roope in the AHL and I think we have a good connection, and Pavs is a great player. I enjoy playing with him also. I think with every game we have a better connection."

Esa Lindell, who also has had to make the adjustment from the AHL to the NHL in the past four seasons, said he sees maturity in the steps that Gurianov are taking.

"He's been stepping up," Lindell said. "He's got huge speed and he's using it. He's getting chances every game and now he's burying those. For me, when I got up, it just time to get used to it and be yourself here. It takes time … someone not so much time … and someone a bit more."

Goalie Ben Bishop said he has enjoyed watching the younger players find their place at the NHL level.

"They're both extremely talented young guys and obviously Roope kind of burst on the scene last year and Gurianov this year has kind of slowly found his stride," Bishop said.

"When you're a young kid and you're looking for that confidence, you're looking for that first one. And obviously, he's got that now and it's kind of starting to get a little more comfortable. He's kind of seeing where he can take his chances. And I think (Saturday) was great, you know, you can see everything kind of come together on the chances he had, and hopefully he can continue doing it."

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 DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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