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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Daniil Gushchin’s game forces you to re-think narratives

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The diminutive Russian brings more to the table than skill.

Daniil Gushchin has a lot working against him. He’s small, which while the perception is changing is still a strike against a player. There’s a belief that players who are small and skilled are one dimensional. The facts don’t really back that up, and it is what causes a lot of variance in his ranking.

Birthplace: Yekaterinburg, Russia
Date of birth: February 6, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Right Wing
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 161 lbs.
Team: Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)

In his second USHL season, he was the Lumberjacks’ leading scorer with 22 goals and 25 assists in 42 games. That was an improvement over his rookie USHL season despite playing nine fewer games.

Elite Prospects

There were questions to where he would continue his career, and after being selected by the Niagara IceDogs in the CHL Import Draft, he decided that he would play in the Ontario Hockey League whenever the 2020-21 season will get underway.

Strengths

There’s no question what Gushchin’s main strength is, and that’s his skill level. Quite frankly it can be considered electrifying. He’s most comfortable carrying the puck on the rush and has the skill to dangle through defenders. He uses a shorter stick which allows him to control the puck and make highlight-reel moves.

On top of his ability to control the puck and shield it from defenders, he’s also shown an ability to receive passes even if they aren’t perfect.

His offensive skills don’t end there. His shot and release is very good and allows him to score. It’s not perfect but there is something to build on in that department.

A lot of the time, Gushchin is able to make not only good plays, but the right play. He often moves the puck positively through the zone and is able to deceive defenders when he has the puck. Perhaps surprising with his status on the team, he only scored one power play goal and had six total power play points last season. On the flip side, he had three short-handed goals and five short-handed points.

That takes us to our next point, which is that you can’t underrate his ability to play without the puck. He is a good backchecker and some scouts even go as far as to say he looks like a third defenceman when he’s on the ice with the way that he retreats but also in the way he covers for teammates who pinch low, with Gushchin remaining up high.

Weaknesses

Gushchin’s size is an issue. At 5’8” and around 160 lbs, he’s small even with today’s shrinking standards and small players making a difference at the NHL level. This is a problem with him for several reasons, mainly due to his strength.

Adding more strength to his frame would help him in several ways, including his shot and his skating. We mentioned that his shot and release was good, but bulking up a bit would allow him to score more from range, which is an issue because he just doesn’t have a lot of power on his shot.

Part of the reason that his power play scoring is so low is that he is reliant on his rush offence and can’t set up in a spot and let his shot go and beat goaltenders.

On the skating side, a lot of scouts will say that he doesn’t skate well enough for someone his size. The fact is his skating is fine, but there is room for improvement. It’s something that scouts feel could be helped with additional strength.

The reasons that he continues to drop down draft boards is because he sometimes takes too many risks. Some of that could be due to the fact he was by far the best player on his team. His decision making wasn’t very good at times, and his effort could be seen to be inconsistent as well, but there are some disagreements in that regard.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #39
Future Considerations: #57
Hockey Prospect: #59
McKeen’s Hockey: #84
McKenzie/TSN: #61
NHL Central Scouting: #41 (North American skaters)

Most of the rankings have him going in the second round or later, which is typical for a player who mixes top-six upside with some genuine concerns with his game and is smaller in stature.

It’s also hard to get a read on Gushchin because his team just wasn’t very good. The team was sixth in its eight team division and was 21-23-5. The only player within 11 points of him was his centre. That meant that he had to carry the puck more and the team wasn’t as structured in its play overall.

One thing that sticks out is that while the team was -14 in goal differential, he had a +/- of +21 on the season. Only Canadiens prospect Rhett Pitlick combined a point-per-game average over 1 with a positive +/-. Contrary to Gushchin, however, Pitlick only played in 28 games.

His skating is also a point of discussion. He’s not a bad skater, but he’s not a great skater either. There is room for improvement, but given the importance and success of his rush offence, it hasn’t affected him yet.

Gushchin is a player who would be a swing for the fences, however unlike most players who are his size and reliant on offence, his play away from the puck may limit the risk for whichever team decides to draft him.