Denis Gurianov exploded onto the scene in the 2019-20 season. After only recording four points in 21 games the previous year, he tallied a team-high 20 goals in only 64 games before the COVID-19 stoppage. For many rookies, their second full season in the league can bring many challenges. Opponents are aware of your skill and ability and can gameplan better against it. This is what Gurianov would be up against throughout the 2020-21 campaign. Here is a look at how his sophomore NHL season went as a whole.
Gurianov ended the season with 12 goals and 18 assists, one point higher than his total last season. The big difference for him, though, was his confidence. As a young player, it can be challenging to stay confident in your ability if the puck is not finding the back of the net on a consistent basis. This is nothing new to him, as he has been a streaky goal-scorer throughout his professional career. He has seen many long streaks without a goal, only to be followed by a goal-per-game pace. This is all part of growing and maturing into a consistent NHL player.
During the 2020-21 season, Gurianov had immediate success, scoring three goals in the first four games for the Stars. Keep in mind, the Stars scored 17 goals in those four games in what was the highest point for the offense all season. After that 4-0-0 start, the team, along with Gurianov, experienced a large dropoff. As Dallas was struggling to find wins, Gurianov battled through goal-scoring droughts of 15, 10, and 7 games, respectively. The worst part of these streaks is that each of them was only separated by one goal each. After 41 games, he had only scored six goals. That included just three goals in 37 games after the fast start in January.
“I just try to not think about it too much and just go on the ice and play my game,” Gurianov said of the recent struggles. “Sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in the net. It happens, and that’s OK. You just keep trying.”
There was hope from Dallas that one goal would be enough to get Gurianov back to his scoring ways. Unfortunately, that did not happen, as his goals were usually followed by long streaks with nothing to show. Still, his coach and teammates stayed confident that he would find his stride eventually and that these were part of the normal growing pains of a young player.
“A kid like Denis, we know he’s young and we just have to keep being patient with him,” Rick Bowness said. “If the same mistakes are happening over and over and over again, then you’ve got an issue. We’re not seeing that.”
It wasn’t until the last game in March that things began to turn around. He ended the month and strode into April with his best games of the season in Nashville, serving on a line with Jamie Benn. The two of them had been struggling to find offense all season but were the two best players in two games against the Predators. Despite a tough mistake in overtime vs. Nashville, Gurianov was playing at a high level, tallying points in three straight games for the first time since January.
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The most noticeable difference was his speed. Stars fans had grown accustomed to watching him fly down the right wing to beat opposing goaltenders, something that was nearly non-existent during the 2020-21 season up to this point. He began to have the puck on his stick more often and showed the confidence to take on defenders on his way to the net. When he is in full flight, he is among the fastest players in the NHL and one of the rare players that can skate faster with the puck than without it.
After those three games, he scored six goals in the final 20 games and gave the Stars some much-needed second-line scoring, as the top trio of Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, and Roope Hintz had been carrying the load for weeks. Both Gurianov and Benn were noticeably different players and finished the season with some confidence going into the offseason. This was vital for Gurianov especially.
For a 24-year-old, confidence can be the difference between an elite goal scorer and a non-factor; just look at Valeri Nichushkin if you need proof of that. Gurianov can now go into the summer with a tough season behind him knowing that he still has the ability to score goals at the highest level. If he can find more consistency in his offense, he can be an elite scorer in the league, and in a hurry. He is a huge part of the Stars’ future, and they expect big things from him coming into his third full NHL season in 2021-2022.
Overall Grade: C+
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!