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Dallas Stars: Back on the Gurianov Express

The Dallas Stars have been here before. What can be done with Denis Gurianov?

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Like passengers not paying attention to how far a train is moving, we have reached the destination much faster than expected, or hoped. Unfortunately, the town entered is called Healthy Scratchville, and Denis Gurianov is the only passenger disembarking. To make matters worse, he knows every street in a location no one wants to visit. 

The conductor for this year’s trip was Pete DeBoer. Just 5 games into his tenure, the new Dallas Head Coach had seen enough and sent Denis to the press box for the game vs. Ottawa. There were many who blamed former bench boss, Rick Bowness, for Gurianov’s lackluster play. The defense-first style was the antithesis of what the 2015 first-round pick needed to thrive. DeBoer promised a clean slate and an up-tempo attacking style of play, which should have been a perfect chance for a reboot. Instead, Gurianov played his way out of the lineup. 

The days of blaming others for Gurianov’s shortcomings are over. Jim Montgomery, Rick Bowness, Pete DeBoer, and even Derek Laxdal in the AHL could not find a way to get a consistent performance from Denis. Four Head Coaches and numerous assistants have yet to find a way to break through and turn  Gurianov into a player that utilizes his speed, size, and scoring touch on a permanent basis. It’s not everyone else, the fault lies with Gurianov. At 25 years of age, he is no longer a young prospect trying to figure things out. He’s a veteran that has not lived up to potential. 

The hope is that a healthy scratch will motivate Gurianov and his game will change. But as Albert Einstein used to say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Healthy scratching has never had a long-term effect on Gurianov. The only time a major breakthrough happened was in 2019 when Denis was demoted to the minors, then lit up the AHL, earned a recall, and scored 20 goals in the shortened season. Just as fast as the greatness appeared, it went away and has not returned. Numerous healthy visits to the press box have not changed that fact.

Gurianov has always received the benefit of the doubt from the Stars for two reasons, he’s a first-round pick and the Stars were desperate to develop offensive talent. In 2019, Rhett Gardner and Nick Camaano outperformed Gurianov in Training Camp, but the former first-round pick was on the roster for Opening Night. Those days are over as well. Matej Blumel is tearing up the AHL while Riley Damiani and Mavrik Bourque have high-end skills. There are options just waiting for the call. Nothing is based on pedigree anymore.

Before anyone laments the ascension of Val Nichushkin and sees the same for Gurianov, it’s not the same. Val has apologized for his effort during his time in Dallas. Denis is a good teammate, works hard and genuinely tries every shift on the ice. But what happens when none of those results in a quality performance? Nichushkin had to grow up and find his next level. Gurianov doesn’t hold back and still hasn’t found that extra gear to be great or even consistent.  

Sending Gurianov down to the AHL like in 2019, is not an option. He would have to clear waivers and could be lost for nothing in return. A trade is unlikely as his trade value is almost non-existent. One Western Conference talent evaluator said, “Right now, he has no feel for the game, it’s like he’s lost all hockey sense,” Not exactly a glowing endorsement for a decent return on investment.

As this week began, I thought the biggest question would be, do the Stars keep Wyatt Johnston or send him back to the OHL when the rookie reaches nine games played? The answer to that question seems to be easier with each game—Keep him. The answer as to what to do with Gurianov however becomes more difficult. 

During the Stars first 5 games, only one active forward had not scored a point despite the team averaging 4 goals per game. That forward was Dennis Gurianov. There is young talent waiting to show what they can do at the NHL level. To keep holding them back isn’t helping the team and certainly is not helping the prospects’ development. At some point, either things must click with Gurianov, or the Stars have to move on. It’s been seven years of patience and hope, but both of those are now in short supply. No one wants to give up on Denis, but this is a business and sometimes hard truths must be acknowledged.  

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