A successful regular season coupled with a deep playoff run (and the requisite price paid in the form of a 1st round pick in the Braydon Coburn trade) means Tampa Bay picks near the end of Round 1; one player type that's sure to be available at that point are guys undervalued because of the much-feared "Russian factor".
Put simply, there are going to be very good prospects available at pick 28 as the other teams in the 1st round opt for guys with zero risk of choosing the KHL over the NHL. There is some inherent risk in selecting Russian forwards, especially ones who don't come to North America to play junior hockey. Some do end up remaining in Russia, after all, but the Russian Factor is almost always drastically overstated and it has not once stopped Steve Yzerman and Al Murray from picking the best player on their board.
All that said, there's a decent chance Denis Guryanov is that guy when a Tampa Bay pick rolls around (maybe even at 28th):
Playing in the MHL (main feeder league for the KHL) means not too many North American scouts have seen Guryanov outside of international play, where he was admittedly quite good, scoring 7 goals in 12 international contests. That's a tiny sample to base an opinion from, but he showed why he has 1st-round upside with elite finishing ability both on the rush and in tight off cycle plays.
Guryanov has the speed to beat defenders wide outside and the strength to lean in on them and work his way to the front of the net, but also the soft hands to quickly fire a shot around or through a goaltender. It's a rare combination of skill, speed, and strength that's seen him become something of a sleeper favorite for this year's draft.
He's in good company given his performance in the MHL, as well:
Playing in the Russian MHL, we don't have a whole lot to go on in terms of historical comparables for Gurianov. What we do know is that he was the most prolific U18 player in the MHL this past season, and the 4th most productive all-time on a per-game basis behind Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Gusev (a Tampa Bay prospect), and Anatoli Golyshev. While Kucherov's production was head and shoulders better than every other U18 MHLer ever, Gurianov possesses a toolkit that Gusev and Golyshev simply did not.
It's no secret that Tampa Bay does not shy away from drafting Russian players, so it's no surprise that two of the best U18 scorers in MHL history were both Tampa Bay picks. Adding a third one would be like going back to a well for Yzerman/Murray that's been good to them in the past. Unlike past Russian draftees in this organization, however, Guryanov has the size and stride to power through his man one-on-man as well as the skill to go around him; he's been compared more to Valeri Nichushkin than Kucherov, so he'd add a different element than some other players likely to be available between picks 25-50.
Guryanov is all potential -- sky-high potential -- and he's a bit of a risky pick. Still, the tools are hard to ignore, and with his speed and skill he'd be much preferable to the one-dimensional power forwards Tampa Bay might be looking at like Paul Bittner or Brock Boeser.
- TSN (McKenzie): #21
- TSN (Button): #20
- ISS Hockey: #24
- Future Considerations: #24