From the moment Daniil Gushchin stepped foot onto North American ice, he’s been an exciting player to watch. Sure, the eye test is accurate when it comes to Gushchin; not unlike a Russian sports car, he’s fast and furious on the ice, but after crunching the numbers, you’ll notice that he’s only ever trended upwards.
Gushchin, like most Russian-born players, began his career in his home country, playing in Russia’s junior men’s leagues, along with making appearances for the Russian Junior National teams since 2017.
The 2016-17 season when Gushchin played for Dynamo Moskva’s U16 team at just 14 years old is when he started to make some noise, posting 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in just 13 games. The next year, he was bumped up to CSKA Moskva’s U17 team for 22 games (earning 39 points), and then the U18 team for two games (3 points) before he made the rounds in the international circuit for Russia.
And when I say made the rounds, I mean it. In 2018, he played for the Russian U16 team in the World Juniors Championship, then for the U17 team in the World Hockey Cup, and then again with the U17 team for World Juniors. For all three of these multi-game international events, he played, in total, 30 games, posting a cumulative 32 points.
Gushchin made his North American debut in the 2018-19 season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, where his points dipped a bit (if you can call 36 points in 51 games a dip), but it’s no surprise that he felt a strong adjustment period. Russian players typically arrive in North America unfamiliar with the English language, since English isn’t often part of the mandated curriculum in schools the way it is in other countries. Combine an unfamiliarity with the language with being 16 years old and in an entirely new country with a very different culture, both on and off the ice, an acute lack of general guidance and that’s not even getting into the difference in rink size … well, the fact that he worked for 36 points is starting to look even more impressive.
That same year, Gushchin returned to Russia to make the international rounds once again, representing Russia in four tournaments: Russia U17 in the World Hockey Cup (six games, 6 points), Russian U17 in the World Juniors (seven games, 8 points), Russia U18 in the World Junior Championships (seven games, 2 points) and Russia U18 in the World Juniors (14 games, 9 points).
Sounds like a very exhausting year to me.
In the 2019-20 season, Gushchin returned to the Lumberjacks, this time wearing the “A,” for 42 games and a total of 47 points, and again to the Russia U18 team, for 12 games and six points. At just over a point per game, it was enough for the winger to be drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the third round (76 overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite the COVID disruptions, the USHL was able to play as business as usual for the most part, and in 2020-21, Gushchin played solely for the Lumberjacks, for 46 games and a whopping 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists).
This season, Gushchin is running the OHL ragged as an alternate captain of the Niagara Ice Dogs. He played 51 games for the team, racking up 71 points (41 goals, 30 assists) in his rookie OHL season (albeit, as a 19/20-year-old). Gushchin was present at the Sharks’ Development Camp earlier this fall, although it was clear that due to his age, he would be sent back to his club team. Now that the OHL season has ended, however, he’s joined the San Jose Barracuda, making his AHL debut on April 20 against the Bakersfield Condors where he registered 5 shots on goal.
Needless to say, by just looking at the stats sheet, Gushchin is one big upside that the Sharks are excited to have in the wings.
What We Like
The obvious upside is that Gushchin is a reliable goal-scorer, who is content passing the puck just much as he is putting it in the back of the net. As an unselfish right wing, Gushchin’s offensive instincts are something preternatural, and it’s clear that his confidence is rightfully high on the forecheck.
From his point totals, one might assume that Gushchin is a selfish player, but that’s far from the truth. Excluding National team appearances, Gushchin’s assists tend to out-weigh his goals. His 41 OHL goals this season came from a lot of team work, despite him running away with the team’s scoring title. He’s a definitive playmaker from all angles of the ice, and is able to anticipate and read plays as they unfold, which makes his ability to be in the right place at the right time to pass a puck uncanny.
Other positives include his speed (always an exciting spot considering the Sharks’ own lack thereof) and his agility. When combined with his hockey sense, Gushchin is practically unbeatable. That’s probably the most noticeable thing about the young Russian; he’s a smart player. He’s creative and resourceful with the puck, sneaky and flexible when it comes to creating scoring chances and springing teammates. And he’s strong on the backcheck too, particularly in the transition zone. Gushchin knows what he needs to do, in all zones, and then he just … does it, and does it well. I don’t know how to explain it other than that.
Areas of Improvement
It’s hard to come up with clear areas of improvement given the fact that Gushchin is shaping up to be a well-rounded, complete player who is reliable, day in, day out. The obvious areas of improvement due to his age go without saying: developing a strong mental and emotional maturity, learning how to set healthy and important boundaries within hockey, such as learning how to deal with losing streaks and point droughts — all of that comes with time, especially as Gushchin’s career seems to be fast-tracked towards the big leagues.
He’s not the largest of players, but he’s proven to be physical at times when necessary, although his penalty minutes — which were much lower when he was younger and in Russia — have exponentially increased in the past three years that he’s played in North America. Whether that’s due to age or the increased physicality present in North American hockey compared to Eastern and Western Europe, I couldn’t say. But learning how to utilize his size effectively, without taking too many penalties will be an important skill to learn as he matures.
Right now, Daniil Gushchin reminds me a lot of fellow Russian Andrei Svechnikov, (although Svechnikov is from Kazan and Guschin Yekaterinburg, which are two very different cities). His creativity with the puck is part of it, but the high penalty minutes too.
Gushchin’s first OHL goal looks like exactly like a coach drew it up. A successful cycle leads to this one-timer from the high slot. To think he went on for 40 more of those bad boys.