CEDAR PARK, Texas — Denis Gurianov left the 2017 World Junior Championship with a bronze medal and 30 hats.
The Dallas Stars prospect earned the medal with Team Russia after he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Sweden in the Bronze Medal Game.
The 30 hats were gifts, one for each of his Texas Stars teammates and coaches who have helped the 19-year-old Russian make the difficult adjustment to life in the AHL. Gurianov brought the hats at a souvenir shop before flying back to Texas, and he wanted to give something back to his teammates.
“It was nice, some of the guys asked me to sign the hat,” Gurianov said. “It made me happy to do that.”
It’s a gesture that wasn’t lost on Gurianov’s teammates in Cedar Park.
The 19-year-old Russian — whom Dallas selected with the 12th overall pick in 2015 — is universally liked in the Texas Stars’ locker room, and that was before he bought everyone a hat.
“Denis has been the type of player that when he needs something, you are willing to do it for him,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “He’s so open to learning, and he cares, and you want to help because you root for him a little bit.”
And Gurianov has needed help off the ice. It’s tough enough playing as teenager in the AHL, it’s even tougher when you didn’t speak a lick of English at this time last year.
“I think he’s an intelligent kid and you must think of the perspective he must have, being that young to come here and being in a strange place,” Texas Stars teammate Brandon DeFazio said. “Plus, and he’s never mentioned it, but there must be pressure being that high of a pick and all that.”
DeFazio has been one of the key mentors for Gurianov this season
Gurianov has his own apartment, but lives in the same complex as DeFazio and a couple of the other Stars. Early in the season DeFazio helped Gurianov figure out how to pay bills and get his utilities in order, while they also took shopping trips to furnish the apartment.
“Getting his apartment set up was pretty funny, everything was fresh for him,” DeFazio said. “He didn’t understand some of the smallest things like getting cutlery, and he seemed to want the opposite of what ever I picked at Walmart.”
It’s a good setup for Gurianov, who said being able to live on his own is a point of a pride, but likes being close to his teammates in the same complex.
“I like that,” Gurianov said. “We go bowling and I get to hang out with them.”
In many ways Gurianov is a typical teenager.
He’s learned how to cook, enjoys video games — FIFA17, NHL17, UFC 2, and Mafia 3 are his favorites — and he had to put in the extra work to get a driver’s license.
Gurianov already had an international license and could legally drive in the United States, but wanted to get his Texan license and could also lower his insurance premiums at the same time.
That’s why Laxdal volunteered to help Gurianov with the process, and together they took weekly trips to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
“It was good bonding time,” Laxdal said. “You enjoy putting in the hours to help him, because he’s so willing to learn and this is a big step for him.”
Laxdal also proudly pointed out that Gurianov got a 100 percent on the test.
“It wasn’t too hard, parallel parking maybe (hard). Other than that easy,” Gurianov said.
Talking to Gurianov, you can tell he’s an intelligent kid from a smart family.
Back in Russia his mother is a nurse, while his father works in the automotive industry, and he has a brother who works in interior design. Gurianov takes weekly English lessons with a Dallas-based teacher over Skype, and finally feels confident enough to conduct a feature-length interview in English with a little bit of help from the Texas Stars public relations staff.
“I think it’s much better,” Gurianov said. “I understand way more.”
And communication has been key for Gurianov, who said he tries to pay attention “to little details,” every day in practice.
“A lot of times (younger players) will just filter into a drill and when they make a mistake you have to correct it,” Laxdal said. “The fact that he has enough security to say ‘what are we doing here?’ and the trust that I’m not going to get mad at him for asking a question. That says a lot to the coaches and his teammates.”
His play on the ice has also spoken volumes.
Gurianov has taken major strides throughout the season. He started the year as a quick skater with raw tools, but little sense of direction. Now he’s started to better understand the North American game — he said he enjoys playing on the smaller ice — and has secured a spot on the Texas Stars’ top line next to Travis Morin and Matej Stransky.
“Here game is a little bit faster and bigger,” Gurianov said. “Bigger shots, smaller ice, more hitting. I like fast game.”
Gurianov has 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games this season, with six points coming in the 12 games after he helped Russia win bronze at the World Junior Championships.
“World junior helped me because I played a lot at world junior and I played a lot now (with Texas),” Gurianov said. “Played on power play, played double shifts, coaches in national team give me much time. When I went to Texas and I came back, I play a lot on power play.”
Overall, Gurianov’s development has been one of the key successes for the Stars franchise this season, and the teenager has enjoyed his experience in Central Texas.
“I like it here, it’s way different,” Gurianov said. “Because in Texas it’s always summer, always hot. No winter, so it’s nice.”