Denis Gurianov had a breakthrough season this year.
Despite being sent down to Cedar Park early in the season, the young Russian came back to lead the Stars in goal scoring when the season was put on pause.
His utilization was not without controversy however with fans repeatedly questioning his deployment and Rick Bowness responding that he looks at the number of shifts rather than ice time.
Bowness argues that short shifts and a lack of special teams time were the reason for the lack of time on ice.
Let’s quickly look at that.
It’s clear since Rick Bowness took charge of the team (and, in fact, all season) that Gurianov has had somewhat middling shift numbers at 5v5. Per Natural Stat Trick, in games toward the end of the season, Gurianov’s shift length was largely within a second or two of the team average for forwards. Therefore it seems overly simplistic to say that lack of ice time is purely down to shift length and special teams.
It seems a bizarre decision to leave the teams, top sniper, off of the powerplay and fans would certainly hope that come the restart Gurianov is deployed in that role. Given Dallas’ supposed defensive chops, it would also be interesting to see them deploy a more aggressive penalty kill as seen run by teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets this year. One could imagine a player with Gurianov’s speed creating havoc if a power-play unit turned over the puck on the rush.
When looking at the isolates from hockeyviz.com we can see that Gurianov is a marked offensive talent. While his defensive impact is limited, and this has been one of the reasons floated for his limited ice time, Gurianov has a similar defensive impact as a noted defensive liability…Tyler Seguin. RAPM isolates from evolving-hockey.com show a similar pattern, solid offensive numbers (although Corsi for indicates that Gurianov could potentially benefit from shooting more) and defensive numbers indicating that the young forward is not as much of a liability as has perhaps been suggested. It’s not surprising, Gurianov’s speed and ability to hit a team on a counter-attack indicate caution when he is on the ice.
Seguin and Gurianov had a relatively limited amount of ice time together in the regular season, playing a total of 102 minutes together. Seguin’s effect on Gurianov is fairly limited, a slight drop in expected goals for (perhaps because Gurianov is more likely to pass when paired with Seguin?) but Gurianov’s impact on Seguin is truly dramatic, particularly offensively but also defensively as shown by the with or without you charts created by hockeyviz.com.
As we talked about last time Corey Sznajder makes a heroic effort to track micro-stats from every NHL game. Looking at the 19-20 regular season it’s obvious that Gurianov is one of the Stars’ best players at zone entries. His entries and carry-ins/60 are comparable to the very best in the league like Pastarnak and Draisaitl. An area for improvement could be his passing game, as he falls significantly behind these players when it comes to following up promising zone entries with successful passes. That being said, he is one of the better players on the team at making high danger passes, only Jamie Benn is more dangerous for the Stars.
As an aside, for those who wonder what may have been, should the stars have chosen differently in the 2015 NHL draft should note that Mathew Barzal truly stands alone in all entry categories. Gurianov is also one of the less successful Stars when it comes to assists from the Neutral Zone and Defensive Zone. This is perhaps not surprising given that a) he is often deployed as a purely offensive player and b) his sheer speed when breaking up the ice. Gurianov is, however, an elite shooter. Only Seguin and Hintz are comparable on the Stars.
When we look at zone exits, most of the Dallas Stars are poor at exiting the zone with possession, with only John Klingberg being truly elite. That being said, while Gurianov does not play in the defensive zone often, he has good success with carrying the puck out. Similarly, Jamie Benn is the Stars only truly elite forechecker by the numbers, however, Gurianov is one of their better players at retrieving dump-ins. While not an elite forechecker, Gurianov’s speed makes him a dangerous presence in the opponent’s zone.
NHL Play-by-Play Data
Much as I hate the term “grit’ when used to describe hockey players, especially skill players, if you looked purely at the NHL play-by-play data you would believe that that was exactly what Gurianov’s game was lacking. He ranks near the bottom of the Stars team on hits, blocks, and takeaways.
Interestingly, although he shoots from all over the offensive zone, the vast majority of his goals have come from the left-hand side of the net. Stars fans have seen him time and again use his speed and movement to move goalies out of position and flick the puck in on the goal line, however, it has to be a concern that if goalkeepers learn to cover this corner his scoring may drop.
That being said, we know that Gurianov has a blistering one-timer, hopefully, he will be able to deploy this more as an offensive weapon.
It’s clear that Denis Gurianov is one of the Stars’ most potent offensive weapons, and the prospect of seeing him on a line with Tyler Seguin and Roope Hintz (as we have seen in camp) should excite fans who are starved of offense.
A criticism and reason for him seeing less ice-time than many others has been that he is poor defensively, but that doesn’t really stack up with what we see in the numbers. Gurianov might not be a shutdown defensive player like we see on the FCC line, which we have seen so successfully on the penalty kill, but as a more aggressive option, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to play him. This is true in both 5v5 situations and on the penalty kill.
It should be noted that Hart and Ted Lindsey Nominee Leon Draisaitl sees significant time on the penalty kill with significantly worse offensive numbers. Not using Gurianov on the powerplay at the very least seems like madness.
If the Stars are to win a Stanley Cup they have to generate offense from somewhere and Gurianov is one of their very best options.
Featured Image: Ray Carlin/AP