Denis Gurianov was working his way through a crowd in the Dallas Stars locker room in Frisco, three drinks in his hands, when he hit a bit of a roadblock.
“Excuse me,” he said.
People moved out of his way, and Gurianov delivered the drinks to a group of his teammates, who looked like they could use some hydration after a long on-ice workout at Dallas Stars development camp.
It was a small moment but a significant one as well, especially when you consider the 19-year-old Gurianov had arrived in Frisco from Russia within the past week with little English in his repertoire as he opens a new chapter in his life.
Gurianov, Dallas’ first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, is beginning his North American hockey career this coming season. This week’s development camp in Frisco is the beginning of the acclimation process.
Although he has already started to pick up some English, Gurianov talked to the media through an interpreter, Stars player relations coordinator Stan Tugolukov.
“It’s new; I like it a lot. It’s a big city, a really nice city. Great people, great teammates,” Gurianov said of his first week in the Dallas area. “Almost everyone is so helpful and for me trying to learn English, and they are just trying to help the best they can.”
Tugolukov, who is Russian, is helping Gurianov with English. So is a local family and Gurianov is doing his share of the work.
“Watching movies, learning vocabulary and trying to remember more words,” Gurianov said. “I live with an American host family, great family. They are a really good family for me. They took me as a son. They help me with English a lot; they talk to me in English a lot trying to help the best they can.”
Asked if the host family speaks any Russian, no translation was necessary.
“Nyet,” Gurianov said, drawing some laughs.
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn has offered some assistance to Gurianov as well, stopping by Frisco to work out with the young Russian.
“It was great for me,” Gurianov said. “He helped me a lot, showed me some things. He tried to help me with my English and all different type of drills. He’s a great player, and it was a heck of an experience for me.”
Gurianov will spend most of the summer in the Dallas area, then go back to Russia for a week in early August to visit with his parents and then head right back to Texas as he prepares for Dallas Stars training camp.
Chances are Gurianov will start his North American career in the AHL. The Stars are excited to get the talented Russian forward, a left-shot right wing, under their guidance. Gurianov, one of Dallas’ top prospects, played in the KHL last season and saw limited ice time in Russia’s top league. He averaged 10:06 of ice time per game, and ended up registering five points (four goals, one assists) in 47 games while playing in the bottom six forwards.
“He had a tough year with the situation he was put in in the KHL,” said Joe McDonnell, Stars director of amateur scouting. “He didn’t get the ice time he would have liked, and definitely, we would have liked. He’s a very talented kid, and we are very excited to get him over here and get him under our wing.”
The expectation is that Gurianov will get a bigger role with the Texas Star of the AHL to push along the development process.
“I am really glad, and I hope it is going to be more minutes,” Gurianov said. “I need that game experience. I need that ice time, so I am excited about it.”
Gurianov has thrived when given ice time at the junior level and in international tournaments with Russia. He’s a slick skater with impressive puck handling skills and the ability to finish. The Stars will preach patience as Gurianov adjusts to living and playing in North America. He’s ahead of the game in that playing on the smaller North American rinks shouldn’t be an issue.
“My hometown has an NHL arena, so I pretty much got used to the size,” Gurianov said.
The Stars see plenty of positives in Gurianov and believe it will be just a matter of time for him to thrive as this new chapter in his life and hockey career unfolds.
“He’s an impressive player. He’s got a skating skill base. He’s smart. He’s got a chance to be a really good player,” said Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “He knows [the offensive] side of the game and he has the ability to execute. There are lots of good pieces there. He’ll just have to learn, grow and mature over here. I like that he has a passion to play. He’s got bubbly, refreshing attitude, and I think that is going to benefit him.
“This will be another transitional year for him, and it will be a challenge for him, but I suspect that once he grasps the culture and picks up the language a little, he’ll fit in well.”
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.