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The ‘Gush’ Is Loose: How Gushchin Improved Throughout Season



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Starting slow is not new to Danil Gushchin.

Often, when Gushchin has started off a new season, there’s been an adjustment period. When Gushchin started his draft year in the USHL in 2019-2020, he went pointless in his first four games, then dominated with 47 points in his final 38 games. When he transitioned to the OHL, a year after after the San Jose Sharks picked him in the third round of the 2020 Draft, he had just one point in his first four games. He finished that year with 70 points in his final 47 games, leading the Niagara IceDogs in 2021-2022 in points. He was clear of second place, Pano Fimis, by 27 points in three less games.

Much the same happened this year for Danil Gushchin with the Barracuda. A 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9 winger — if you squint — there was a significant adjustment period for Gushchin when switching to professional hockey.

Starting off with just two points in his first 11 games, Gushchin eventually found his footing. He finished the season with 43 points in his final 56 games, earned regular ice time with William Eklund on the Cuda’s top line, and even found himself on the San Jose Sharks for a couple games. He made the most of that debut as well, scoring two points and his first goal in his two NHL games.

I profiled Gushchin on my YouTube last year, after watching him throughout his junior career. Before the last Draft, I had Gushchin third on the Sharks prospects list behind Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau. I’ve watched a lot of Danil Gushchin — and I’m here to announce that the “Gush” is loose.

Here’s how Gushchin has gotten better this season.

Carrying Puck

Let’s start with how Gushchin has adapted to carrying the puck first. Before this season started, I had said that his success in the pro ranks would depend on him being able to carry the puck. How will he adapt to having to shield the puck from larger and more aggressive defenders? With his size, and some deficiencies to his retrieval game, his value must come through as a puck carrier. Earlier in the year, Gushchin was having significant troubles carrying the puck and maintaining possession long enough for help to arrive.

Gushchin (75 in white) enters the zone with speed, but loses the handle just as he’s looking for his passing option from a game against the Colorado Eagles on Nov. 13.

Same thing above, Gushchin overcomplicates his handle, and makes for an easy steal for the winger Mikhail Maltsev (57), a borderline NHL’er so far in his career.

Gushchin would sometimes be missing that one final piece of the puzzle early in the year, and allow his smaller stature to be exploited while carrying the puck.

However, slowly, as the season went on, he gained more and more confidence.

This play shows just how creative Gushchin can be, generating something out of nothing here on Nov. 20 against Tucson. Gushchin (in black) dangles and attacks open ice, but is thwarted by multiple sticks. I like this play even if it ends up in a nothing chance, as it shows just how much his confidence grew throughout the year.

On Jan. 6, Gushchin (in black) is able to absorb pressure and escape his defender Nate Thompson (44), who has over 800 NHL games in his career. He then makes the simple play by handing it off to his blueliner Darren Brady (92).

On Jan. 11 against San Diego, Gushchin pulls off a brilliant fake shot, then a series of moves to get to the net.

On Jan. 14 against Abbotsford, he’s able to steal a puck off the winger Arsheep Bains (9), a 22-year-old Vancouver Canucks prospect, then carry the puck off the wall and attack the net. Over the last 25 games of the season, Gushchin evolved into a dynamic player that doesn’t hesitate to flash his skill and doesn’t hesitate with his next move.

By the last few months of the season, the jaw-dropping moves, like the one seen above, were a near-nightly thing from Gushchin.

This isn’t the NHL just yet, and his sample size from there is a little too small to analyze. Still, the AHL is a hard league and a definite adjustment from juniors. Gushchin’s ability to carry the puck has improved throughout the year, and that’s something to get excited about as he moves forward. He is going to need time to gain this confidence at the NHL level, and more importantly a coach that is willing to fight through the warts. Given the positive reviews from David Quinn, I think there may be an opportunity there for Gushchin to show his stuff.

I’ve always liked him since the day I saw him. Plays with a good pace. It’s a big-time NHL shot that he scored his goal on. He’s around it, to make plays. He’s got poise. He’s got confidence. He’s got a little tenacity to him. I liked his game. – David Quinn

Sharks Locker Room: Criscuolo Scores 1st NHL Goal on Dad’s Birthday, Quinn on Gushchin’s Debut

Shot Accuracy

Now don’t worry, I know why you’re all here, and why Gushchin jumps off the screen as a prospect. Gushchin is a legitimate goal scorer, tied for 11th in AHL rookie goals (with Bordeleau), and only two players above him were younger, Jiri Kulich and Vasily Ponomarev.

Just like how I said that Gushchin needed to succeed carrying the puck to become NHL-ready, I think his shot must shine for him to establish himself with the San Jose Sharks. He scored his first NHL goal late in the year in his debut, which was an absolute laser on the power play:

13 of his 22 goals in the AHL came after February 15th, in his final 22 games of the AHL year. So what was happening in his first 45 games?

To put it very simply, Gushchin was missing the net. He’s got an incredible release, knows how to get into space to threaten with his shot from range and find the soft areas of the ice. Gushchin must improve his accuracy though, something that has plagued him since he was in juniors. He shoots for the top corners almost exclusively at times, and sometimes those shots are buried. But this mentality means that he can go through large stretches where he’s scoreless.

The Barracuda would set up a glorious chance, get Gushchin the puck, and his shot placement would lead to him missing high, the puck rimming out of the zone or going out of play.

When he’s on a hot streak though, his shot can be phenomenal.

While I absolutely love that Gushchin has developed the confidence throughout the year to rip pucks like he does, I am hoping for a more nuanced Gushchin next year.

Sometimes, I want him to shoot for rebounds or to shoot for extending the play or getting the goalie out of position. For now, he’s pretty headstrong on trying to beat the goalie by lasering the puck top shelf. Just like with his carrying game and the warts a coach will have work through there, a coach will have to deal with more than a few cold streaks with this type of shooting.

It’s a fine balance. The last thing you want to do is tell a player with Gushchin’s caliber of shot to stop shooting.


The last area of Gushchin’s game that must improve before he reaches the NHL is his physical play.

The narrative for diminutive wingers is a strong one. If they’re small and avoid contact, they’re not making the NHL. If they’re small and can’t defend, they’re not making the NHL. If they’re small and tend to coast/cheat for offense, they’re not making the NHL. Most of those statements for any size player are true, but they’re amplified if a player is 5-foot-8.

The good news is that Gushchin doesn’t cheat for offense, and Gushchin does defend. His offense is created mostly off the rush and by creativity in the offensive zone, but he isn’t standing by the blueline waiting for pucks to come to him. He attempts to retrieve the puck, and he makes sure he’s getting back when the puck goes the other way.

Gushchin has been praised for his endurance, and his ability to get back into the defensive zone when plays break down. This isn’t something always associated with small wingers. He’s aggressive in this mentality, and it has kept him high in the lineup for the Barracuda.

Gushchin is able to sneak behind Charles Hudon (54), a 28-year-old NHL journeyman, and grab the puck off his stick. He shields well enough to prolong the play. This is the type of retrieval that Gushchin excels at, the sneaky and quick steals of the puck.

He’s still just a little too light, however. He can’t outmuscle many players right now in the AHL, and certainly won’t be able to at the NHL level. Most small wingers find a way to get in front of or get under larger defenders to steal pucks. Gushchin hasn’t really developed that quite yet. His checking form isn’t always effective, and something that I think could keep him from moving higher in an NHL lineup.

Gushchin (75 in black) waits just a fraction of a second too long in the corner. Once he picks his head up, he’s already getting outmuscled by multiple defenders.

This is something that Sheng brought up in his debut analysis article for Gushchin, and I completely agree. He must add muscle before next season, and find a way to leverage his body weight more effectively.

Where Can Gushchin Get Better? (+)


Judging from what I know of Gushchin thus far, and having watched him at multiple levels, I think he’s just getting started.

He has an NHL shot, one of a top-six forward. There’s still some improvement that I’d like to see with his shot placement, but that’s true of many goal-scorers in the NHL.

He’s a skilled and increasingly confident puckhandler. Whether or not this skill could develop felt to me to be the biggest question mark for Gushchin headed into this year. It cannot be overstated how much harder it is to carry the puck in the AHL rather than the OHL. He’s got a mind for transition and knowing where the puck needs to be next to move play forward.

I have questions about just how high in the lineup he can reach because of his size and his physical play, but I don’t question his motor. He’s a tenacious back-checker and working hard is the first step in earning a coach’s trust.

For next season, I would guess he starts on the first line of the Barracuda, and has an opportunity to be “the guy” once again with Eklund possibly being promoted to the San Jose Sharks. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gushchin force his way into an NHL line-up in the near future.

The upside is there, the only question is if he can round out his game enough to reach it.


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