Stars forward Denis Gurianov has had a wild ride of an NHL career. After playing his first NHL game in 2016-17, it took him another full season before he was able to get his second chance. Then, in 2018-19, he struggled to find offense, playing in just 21 games at the NHL level. Finally, during the 2019-20 season, he broke through, scoring 20 goals and leading his team for much of the season. In the playoffs that year, he was even more impressive, tallying nine goals and 17 points in 27 playoff games during the Stars march to the Stanley Cup Final.
Since then, however, things have been tough. In the two seasons since that magical run, the 24-year-old Russian winger has struggled to find consistency in his overall game, especially offensively.
Gurianov Struggles to Find Consistency
In 2020-21, Gurianov saw long stretches of pointless streaks, going up to 15 games without a goal. This season, he has done much of the same. With only four goals and 10 points in 28 games, he is currently sitting on an 11-game goal drought. As in the past, he has shown flashes of excellence. Just watch his overtime winner against the Los Angeles Kings for proof of that. This goal displays the skill that gave him so much success during his 20-goal season as he was constantly racing down the right wing for scoring chances.
However, the consistency has simply not been there for him. While this is something that has followed him throughout his entire hockey career, the Stars need him to figure it out and believe that now is the time to do it.
“He has to take great pride in being a consistent pro and performing at a high level on a consistent basis and not this in-and-out,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “There comes a point where he has to outgrow that and we are all counting on that point being now.”
There is no magical secret to fixing a players’ struggles on or off the ice. For Gurianov, the struggles seem to be in both categories. It is clear that when he is on his game, he is a confident player with loads of swagger and a huge smile on his face. However, when he is struggling, he puts his head down and goes unnoticed on most of his shifts throughout the game. One of the toughest aspects of the NHL is controlling the emotions of the highs and lows of each season. That is something that young players struggle with and is a huge reason why teams keep experienced veterans in their locker rooms.
Gurianov has an excellent support system with the most experienced coach in NHL history, a captain that has been through it all, and many players that have been around the game for many years. Unfortunately, there is only so much that can come from the outside. At some point, Gurianov needs to make the adjustment for himself and find a way to get it done.
“It’s in practice,” Bowness said. “Making sure when we are doing line drills, just talking and pushing him. That comes from them [teammates], it comes from the coaches, but most importantly, it has to come from Denis.”
New Line Should Help Gurianov
Last season, Gurianov started playing well once he lined up with Jamie Benn at center. Benn began to find his game and Gurianov was able to play with the puck, play with confidence, and started to rack up points on a consistent basis. This season, the Stars have shuffled their lines due to struggles, injuries, and illness, but it seems they have finally found a top-six they are excited about.
Behind the dynamic top line of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson, Bowness rolled out Tyler Seguin along with Benn and Gurianov in the team’s last game before the pause. That trio accounted for five points, a large part of a 7-4 victory on home ice. Benn tallied one goal and one assist, Seguin scored a goal and held a plus-3 rating, and Gurianov finished the game with two assists. It was no coincidence that this was the best game of the season for all three players.
“I think Jamie finds an extra step when he is playing center. I think it is because he can’t be lazy with me doing all the work,” Seguin joked. “Guri [Gurianov] is a player that has such a high ceiling. He’s got one of the best shots I have ever seen and his speed is obviously undeniable. If we can get us to be clicking, I think we can be a dominant line the rest of the year.”
Whatever the solution to Gurianov’s scoring issues is, it needs to be found fast. Although he is only 24 years old, the Stars are likely growing a bit frustrated with the lack of offense he has displayed. If he and the Stars can find a way to unlock him for good, he has the ability to become an elite goal scorer in the league. If not, he may see a similar future to Valeri Nichuskin, making his way to another NHL club when his contract ends this summer.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!