June 7, 2023

The 2022-23 NHL regular season remains in its infancy. With most teams hovering around the ten-game mark, plenty of time remains for specific situations to change direction. For struggling teams with quality rosters, the season is not entirely lost. The opposite is true for less-skilled rosters currently outperforming expectations. Still, some storylines are already at a place where the call for action is real. For the Dallas Stars, one such storyline involves their 2015 first-round pick, Denis Gurianov.

Selected 12th overall in a draft that bred the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel at the top and is considered one of the deeper drafts in recent history, Gurianov has struggled to become a consistent impact player in Dallas. Possessing a bounty of physical attributes and high-end skills, his lack of hockey IQ and confidence has led to an inability to put it all together at the highest level, failing to provide the top-six forward production the Stars once hoped to receive. Surviving multiple head coaching tenures, the excuse involving systems is no longer part of the puzzle. The onus now falls on Gurianov, and people close to the Stars have become increasingly displeased with every game he fails to provide any offense.

Yes, the sample size for this season remains small. However, the criticism towards Gurianov goes much further back than September 2022. A pending restricted free agent with a $2.9 million qualifying offer, his tenure in Dallas will come to a close unless he can surprise the masses and drastically turn it around. Unlikely to be the case, the question surrounding the Stars now shifts towards what they will do with a player in desperate need of a change of scenery.

Trade Gurianov Before the Deadline

For the Stars, the best option for handling their Gurianov situation is trading him to another organization before the deadline. Likely receiving a conditional draft pick in return, they could use this as a cap-clearing move to provide them with flexibility for adding another asset for a playoff push. However, one may find it hard to muster up much interest in a 25-year-old former first-round pick failing to put it all together. Of course, teams constantly acquire project-type players, but this could feel like more of an offseason move for most franchises instead of a mid-season acquisition.

Denis Gurianov Dallas Stars
Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Stars view a Gurianov trade as more of an opportunity to rid themselves of the contract, maybe they are less concerned with the return. A team could be willing to part ways with a conditional mid-round draft pick if that is the case. Of course, the chance of a “hockey trade” involving another player also exists. In this case, the Stars would likely acquire another player not meeting their club’s expectations, hoping a change of scenery could serve them well. They may show interest in a swap of this variety as long as the long-term cap implications are minor.

Although a respectable return seems unlikely at this juncture, trading Gurianov appears to be a possible option for Dallas. Likely not occurring until after the holiday season, this does little to address the issue in the short term.

Send Gurianov to the Texas Stars

Like most players underperforming in the NHL, the Stars could always send Gurianov to the American Hockey League (AHL). On the surface, this seems like the most apparent immediate fix for Dallas. If he cannot hold his own on the Stars roster, make room for someone else to seize that opportunity. It is as simple as that.

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Well, not really. For Gurianov to successfully find his way to the Texas Stars, he would need to clear waivers. Of course, then Dallas risks losing a player for nothing. One may argue why the Stars should care if Gurianov gets claimed. Whether in the AHL or with another NHL team, he is no longer a problem for the organization. However, pride is a difficult thing for most human beings to swallow. The idea of losing a former high-draft pick for nothing can be challenging to get behind, even though the marriage is ending.

Imagining another team claiming Gurianov at this juncture seems unlikely. To this point, he has demonstrated little to no value and comes with a $2.9 million cap hit. With most teams up against the cap, or close to it, investing what little funds an organization might have towards an unproven commodity seems foolish.

Stay the Course

Probably the least popular option, the Stars could choose to ride out the season with Gurianov in the lineup, hoping something eventually clicks. There’s no denying his potential. He has flashes that demonstrate his top-notch skill. Unfortunately, it rarely results in a goal, something Dallas desperately needs from a player with his skill set. Of course, some players take more time to fully develop and Gurianov could be a “late bloomer.” If the Stars feel no better option exists, they might decide to just give him one final season before ultimately making a decision.

Unfortunately for Gurianov, Dallas may have some more promising options waiting in the wings. Young forwards like Matej Blumel and Maverik Bourque continue to develop in the AHL and will soon demand an opportunity with the NHL club. Then you have a player like Logan Stankoven, who is slightly further away but will be knocking on the door next season. Teams always want to take the patient approach with young players, providing them ample time before deciding whether they are NHL material. At 25 years old, Gurianov is no longer a kid, with many of his peers at a similar age heading into the prime of their careers. Unlike a season or two ago, there is plenty of youth in the Stars’ system ready for their shot.

Related: Stars’ Rookie Wyatt Johnston Making Strong Early Impression

Whenever a highly regarded player does not work out, an organization and its fan base cannot help but feel disappointed. With a bounty of potential, Gurianov was provided every opportunity to succeed in Dallas. Unfortunately, he failed to answer the bell, and it is time for the Stars to move on. Now, all we can do is wait and find out the team’s course of action for their once highly-touted prospect.

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