Top 25 Under 25: Could no. 25 Daniil Gushchin become a pint-sized Ovechkin?
The Russian winger draws comparisons to Ovi — both good and bad.
We open our Top 25 San Jose Sharks Under 25 series with a selection from the 2020 NHL Draft. The team traded a fourth- and fifth-round pick (100th and 126th overall) to the Edmonton Oilers in order to draft Russian winger Daniil Gushchin in the third round, 76 overall. Prior to the draft, Gushchin was ranked as high as 41 (NHL Central Scouting, North American Skaters) and as low as 84 (McKeen’s Hockey). The Sharks didn’t have a third-round selection, as their original pick was sent to Detroit as part of the Gustav Nyquist trade in 2019.
On Monday, the USHL named Gushchin their Player of the Week for the second week of the 2020-21 season. Until the OHL returns in February 2021, Gushchin is on loan to his former team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, and last Saturday, he put up a hat trick and an assist in a 10-8 (yes, that score is correct) win over the Chicago Steel. In just three USHL games so far this year, Gushchin has seven points.
Gushchin came to the USHL in 2018 out of CSKA Moskva in Russia’s top youth league, as well as representing Russia internationally at the under-16 and under-17 levels. In his first North American season, he ranked fifth in points on a Lumberjacks team that topped the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
His second season with the Lumberjacks, Gushchin was given the ‘A,’ serving as an alternate captain to a team in transition. They lost all four of the team’s top-scorers, each for a different reason, and Gushchin carried the team on his shoulders. Over 42 games, he put up 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists), leading the team in all three scoring metrics. Of all USHL skaters, he ranked 11th in goals, 25th in assists and 16th in points. But a lack of depth led to a 21-23-5 record, with the team sixth in the Western Conference before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
What made the Sharks want to make sure they grabbed this guy?
For an organization that loves the “power forward” type, Gushchin is a change of pace. He’s small — like seriously small, listed at just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds — but he knows exactly how to use his size. He’s not just fast when it comes to his skating, but in how he sees and plays the game. Per Pick224, Gushchin ranked fourth among all USHL draft-eligible skaters in primary points per game (P1/GP), with 0.7619 P1/GP at even-strength and 0.0952 P1/GP on the man-advantage last season. His 181 shots ranked third among all USHL skaters in 2019-20.
Whether due to the lack of talent around him in Muskegon or the lack of interest in the NCAA route, Gushchin elected to take his talents to the Niagra IceDogs of the OHL in 2021. The team drafted him fourth overall in the 2020 CHL Import Draft. Though the USHL has top-tier talent, they don’t generally have the same depth of talent as the OHL, which means Gushchin will likely play a little further down the line up and against better competition. Last year, the IceDogs struggled, winning just 18 of their 63 games, and finishing fourth in the Central Division.
What We Like
Gushchin plays high-risk, high-reward hockey — which makes him sound a lot like one of his fellow countrymen currently in the NHL. Like Alex Ovechkin, Gushchin boasts a serious wrist shot with great hands that can find ways to score all over the ice. He’s comfortable with being a leader and carrying a hefty workload. He uses his small size to his advantage, weaving between opponents effortlessly. His puck control and stick work is top notch, and he has the offensive mindset of top-line talent.
On the good side of things, the Russian import forward is a speedy, skilled winger who has the predatory instinct of the best offensive players in the game. His puck skills are impressive, juking and dodging through traffic as if he were a shifty NFL running back. It can be incredibly fun to watch when he is successful and devastating for the mentality of his opponents as they are often left reaching for air as he maneuvers the ice.
Areas of Improvement
What has plagued Gushchin for much of his career so far is his defensive play, something not uncommon for young players who focus their efforts on scoring a lot of goals. Some scouts have described him as being an entirely different player in the defensive zone versus the offensive zone. It’s not impossible that carrying the Lumberjacks’ offense created these lapses, but it’s still the risky side of his game.
Unfortunately, his comparisons to Ovechkin aren’t just limited to his upside, but his struggles, as well. Last Word on Sports notes:
It’s admittedly easy to criticize Gushchin’s play. Over the last two seasons, both spent with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, Gushchin’s poor defensive play has become notorious. In fact, Josh Tessler, Head Scout for Smaht Scouting, grouped Gushchin’s defensive ability in with some pretty poor company. “In the defensive zone, [Gushchin] reminds me of Alex Ovechkin in his earlier days in the NHL… Ovechkin was not known for his defensive play and stood around in the slot waiting for the Capitals to gain possession. Gushchin exemplifies quite a bit of Ovechkin’s defensive play.”
From the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where Team Russia won Bronze, here’s a two-goal, two-assist performance from Gushchin.