Danil Gushchin has made easy work of his rookie year in the USHL. He ranks eighth among rookies and fifth on his team in points, with 35 in 46 games. The Russian winger is expected to be a late-first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That stock could very easily rise, though, as he becomes better adjusted to North American hockey. Nonetheless, Gushchin has done a great job of establishing himself as a star in the USHL.
Prospect Profile: Danil Gushchin
Gushchin’s great play is no surprise. Before coming to play in the USHL, he was the star of Russia’s U16 team. Throughout their various tournaments, he netted 18 points in 11 games. Of these 18, 11 were goals. During his club games that season, he was equally elite with 44 points in 24 games.
— USHL (@USHL) November 24, 2018
Following this great season, Gushchin immediately began popping up on everyone’s radar. He was a short but agile winger that seemingly embodying the small-but-speedy mantra that is slowly becoming modern hockey. This playing style shined through during Saturday’s loss to the Central Illinois Flying Aces. Gushchin went without a point for the fourth game straight.
However, it wasn’t from lack of trying. Gushchin came to life in the third period. He was officially credited with two shots, although there were a couple more that could’ve gone his way. All of his shots were beautifully placed and had a healthy amount of power to them. In most cases, they were clear goals. Unfortunately for Gushchin, the Aces had star goalie Mitchell Gibson, who recorded a 37 save shutout, in net for them.
When he wasn’t shooting, Gushchin made multiple beautiful passes. This included a saucer pass over an Aces defender on a two-on-one. Gibson was able to slide over and make one of his many jaw-dropping stops.
There was another play, very briefly preceding the aforementioned two-on-one, where Gushchin was able to make his way through three Aces players before finally losing the puck to the fourth one that stepped up. This highlights the best part of his game. While he clearly has a great shooting and passing ability, his puck-handling is virtually uncanny. He makes getting the puck from him a genuine chore.
— USHL (@USHL) December 15, 2018
Gushchin combines an elite puck-handling ability with a very much well-rounded skill set. He is notably fast and it always feels like he can be even faster. A part of this comes from just how effortless his skating is. Aside from his speed, he also has great edgework and is able to work very well in tight spaces.
All of these traits make Gushchin a truly unique player. He uses his great skating to win the puck from defenders. An elite awareness and puck-handling help him seamlessly break into the offensive zone, where his ability to release a quick and accurate shot or make a great pass make him a very dangerous threat. On top of everything, though, is his work ethic. Nothing phases Gushchin. He simply goes out every shift with one objective and that’s to put the puck in the back of the other team’s net. His ability to stay calm and work extremely hard to accomplish this goal has turned him into an elite scorer.
It’s not all positives for Gushchin. In fact he’s too strong in some fields. During Saturday’s 4-0 loss, Gushchin was on the ice for every goal against. While none of them were his fault, he contributed to them all by being out of position. A lot of this comes from puck chasing. If there was ever any sort of scrum for the puck, Gushchin was almost guaranteed to be a part of it. In most cases, this left players wide-open. This was something that the Aces were able to take advantage of for almost all of their scoring opportunities.
This issue isn’t detrimental, though. It’s not great, but fixing it comes with maturity. Gushchin is a 17-year-old, elite scorer who has dominated in every league he’s played in. Now that he isn’t averaging over a point-per-game in the USHL, he’ll have to focus more on positioning. This is something that will likely be a huge focus point next season as he heads towards the 2020 NHL Draft.
If he can become a much smarter player in the defensive zone, he is easily a top-10 pick in 2020. He exhibits an offensive ability that is very hard to find in American hockey combined with elite poise. Hockey is seemingly moving towards an era of small, agile, and highly-skilled forwards. Gushchin is the embodiment of this playing style. If he continues to improve, he could become a very dangerous scorer in the NHL one day.