For the second time in three years, the Dallas Stars opted for a Russian with their first pick in the NHL Draft. Two years after selecting Valeri Nichushkin with the tenth overall pick in 2013, the Stars took forward Denis Gurianov with the 12th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft Friday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
“When we go to the draft, we want the best player. We want the best asset. He’s a good kid and I look forward to him being a Dallas Star,” said Stars GM Jim Nill.
Gurianov has shown the ability to put the puck in the net.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” said Nill. “He loves to score goals. He’s got a great shot. He loves to go to the front of the net. He plays hard. He’s really the ultimate power forward.”
Gurianov is a left-handed shot who can play either right or left wing. He’s listed at 6-3, 192 pounds and could top out at around 210 pounds. Stars Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnel said Gurianov was their guy from November.
“We like pretty much everything - his talent level, skating ability and compete level for a Russian player,” McDonnell said. “We met with him and his family this morning. The parents are outstanding. The kid we knew was outstanding from the combine when we met him there. He’s like Val in a lot of ways. The compete level is off the charts; the skill level is off the charts. We are just excited.”
And Gurianov said he was excited about being drafted by the Stars, a team he has watched because of that young Russian on the Dallas roster – Valeri Nichushkin.
“I am very happy to be chosen by the Dallas Stars. I am going to try to score a lot of goals, make a lot of assists and make the fans happy,” Gurianov said through Stars scout Evgueni Tsybouk, who served as a translator. “I know about Nichushkin. I watched him play with [Jamie] Benn and [Tyler] Seguin. I know a lot about the team and the city. I am excited to go there.”
The 18-year-old Gurianov played most of last season in Russia’s top junior league (MHL), registering 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) in 23 games. He played eight games in the KHL, picking up one assist. He led Russia in goals (six) and points (seven) in five games at the 2015 U-18 World Junior Championship and was named one of his team’s top three players at the tournament.
“He’s a game breaker,” Tsybouk, who is based in Russia. “He scores goals. He’s quick. He drives to the net. And he’s got a powerful shot he gets off quick. Just everything.”
Gurianov’s shot gets a lot of attention, and McDonnell threw out the name Tyler Seguin when talking about the newest addition to the Dallas prospect pool.
“He’s got a rocket,” McDonnell said. “He one-times the puck better than anybody I saw this year. You don’t want to compare him to anybody, but he is almost Seguin-like as far as his shot. He’s got a bullet.”
Despite his talent, many projected Gurianov to go late in the first round of the draft. A big reason was the so-called Russian factor, the fear that he may decide to stay in Russia and not come over to play in the NHL. The Stars are confident Gurianov will come to North America after some time developing his game in Europe.
“I am not worried about [him not coming over],” Nill said. “We’ve had a good history. In the end, these guys are good players and the best players want to come over here and play.”
That Russian factor was a reason Nichushkin dropped to the Stars in 2013. The Stars think they have benefited again with Gurianov in 2015.
“[NHL teams] had him in their top 15 or so, but most of the teams are afraid to take him,” said McDonnell. “He’s got top-five skill out of this draft. No question.”
Gurianov will play next season in the KHL, where he is under contract. The young forward is expected to get ample playing time in Russia’s top league.
“He’ll play a lot next year,” Tsybouk said. “I’ve talked to management. He’ll get a lot of ice time. He is going to be a big part of that team.”
Once Gurianov gets that season in the KHL under his belt, the Stars will see where he is and go from there.
“He’s only 18,” said Nill. “We are in no rush. We are looking for who is going to be the best player when he is 23 or 24, and that is what we are projecting him to be.”
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.