In a season where the Dallas Stars have struggled mightily to pick up points, young winger Denis Gurianov has been a spotlight of those struggles. The kid has only six goals in 33 games this season and does not appear to have the same confidence that he had in 2019-20. When he is playing well, it is very noticeable as he flies up and down the ice. His speed allows him to chip pucks into space and beat players to them in order to get scoring chances.
Other than his many goals flying down the wing, the power play has been where he has done a lot of his damage. Sitting on the right side of the power play opposite of the spot that Alex Ovechkin calls home, Gurianov found a way to drill his one-timer past many goaltenders last season.
This season he has not done so as he was noticeably struggling to hit the net early in the season. The speed plays have not been there this season either, as every time he looks to get going, it seems that the play gets stopped up for a list of reasons. He has seen his shooting percentage drop from 15 percent last season to only seven percent this season. He has also struggled without the puck as he is a minus-4 on the season and has already exceeded his penalty minutes from all of last season with 19 in 33 games in 2021.
I believe it is only a matter of time until he breaks out of this slump that he is in and returns to his scoring ways. I predict not only that he finds his scoring again but that he becomes a consistent 20-25 goal scorer in the league – here is why.
Gurianov has always been a streaky scorer. When looking at his stats from the AHL before he joined Dallas full time, he would go on scoring streaks that would sometimes last six or more games. However, he would then follow that with five games without a goal.
When he came to Dallas last season, the results were the same. He did not score in his first seven games before putting up two multi-goal games in one week. That was followed by 12 straight games without a goal before he scored in two games straight. This trend continued all the way through the season and even into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After scoring throughout the first two rounds, he scored only one goal in the final two rounds.
While this season has been more slumps than scoring streaks, he has been here before and can find his way out.
Just as Gurianov has shown his streakiness, he has also shown his offensive explosiveness. He led the Stars last season with 20 goals through the regular season. He had seven power-play goals and a shooting percentage of 15 percent. He was flying down his wing, beating defenders to the net and scoring some of the prettiest goals of the season for the Stars.
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he was even more noticeable. He scored six goals in the six games versus Calgary in the first round, including a four-goal performance to close out the series in Game 6. In the second round versus Colorado, he added two goals and four assists for the Stars, who won the series in seven games.
It is a small sample size, but it is proven successful. It takes a lot of skill, confidence, and composure to score goals in the NHL. Gurianov scored 20 in his first season, so there are plenty more to come.
Still Very Young
Let’s not forget that Gurianov is only 23 years old, and this is just his second season in the NHL. His success last season brought with it the expectations of a proven scorer, but people forget that he is still learning. Every young player goes through ups and downs as they learn what it takes to be a consistent player in the league. Miro Heiskanen went through a similar patch at the beginning of this season before returning to his normal self.
Two of the toughest areas for young players to learn are consistency and confidence. The reason that they are so tough is because they come together.
When Gurianov was scoring goals, he looked like the most confident player on the ice. However, on his scoring slumps, you could see a significant difference in his play with and without the puck. He did not try to make the same skill plays and was quick to give up the puck or defer to another player when he had a chance to get a shot on goal. With consistency comes confidence and vice-versa. Since he has had trouble being consistent with his scoring, his confidence has had the same fate.
These skills will come for the kid. His coaches know his potential and believe in him as he is still averaging over 16.5 minutes of ice time this season, despite his struggles.
“A kid like Denis, we know he’s young and we just have to keep being patient with him,” Stars coach 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.”
As he gains more experience, he will be able to weather the ups and downs a bit better and develop the consistency and confidence to be a goal scorer in this league for years to come.
Tough Season for Dallas
This has not been a good season for the Stars up to this point. They still have plenty of ground to cover to catch that final playoff spot and are running out of time to do it. It is true that Gurianov has had a tough time scoring but so has most of this team. It is very tough to gain confidence when you are not producing, but it is even tougher when your team loses nearly every game.
With points being so important at this time, Gurianov has seen less power-play time as well as less ice time in overtime. This does not help a young player’s confidence as they want to be out there at the crucial times to help their team win. For that reason, Stars fans, I urge you to take a deep breath and give it time. It seems that coming off of a horrendous mistake in overtime versus Nashville on Tuesday, it may be time to let him sit in the press box and watch a few games from above. We have seen the impact that can have on a young player with just about every name that has joined the Stars in recent years, and it should help him as well.
Either way, he will get out of the slump eventually and the Stars have themselves a strong goal scorer in the making.
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!