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Learning curve: At 19, Stars’ Russian rookie adjusting to life in U.S.

Frequent trips to the DMV helped define Denis Gurianov’s first season in North America with the Texas Stars.

Throughout the first half of the season, the 19-year-old Russian and first-round pick by the Dallas Stars in 2015, would make weekly trips to the DMV with Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal as he worked on obtaining a Texas driver license.

Gurianov already had an international license and could legally drive in the United States, but wanted to get his official American license and could also lower his insurance premiums at the same time.

“It was good bonding time,” Laxdal said. “You enjoy putting in the hours to help him, because he’s so willing to learn and this is a big step for him.”

Laxdal also proudly pointed out that Gurianov got a 100 percent on the test.

“It wasn’t too hard, parallel parking maybe (hard). Other than that, easy,” Gurianov said.

It’s all part of an on and off-ice cultural immersion for Gurianov, who is hockey’s equivalent of Valentine Michael Smith in the science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

“I think he’s an intelligent kid and you must think of the perspective he must have, being that young come here and being in a strange place,” Texas Stars teammate Brandon DeFazio said. “Plus, and he’s never mentioned it, but there must be pressure being that high of a pick and all that.”

DeFazio, an AHL veteran at 28, has helped Gurianov feel more comfortable in Texas and has acted as a mentor for the teenager.

Gurianov has his own apartment, but lives in the same complex as DeFazio and a couple of the other Stars. Early in the season DeFazio helped Gurianov figure out how to pay bills and get his utilities in order, while they also took shopping trips to furnish the apartment.

“Getting his apartment set up was pretty funny, everything was fresh for him,” DeFazio said. “He didn’t understand some of the smallest things like getting cutlery, and he seemed to want the opposite of what I ever I picked at Walmart.”

And you have to add a degree of difficulty for the language barrier. Gurianov didn’t speak a word of English at this time last year, but now feels confident enough to conduct an interview with the help of the Texas Stars public relations staff and still takes weekly lessons.

“I think it’s much better,” Gurianov said. “I understand way more.”

Gurianov’s english and off-ice comfort level has actively reflected his play on it.

Early in the season he was a quick, raw skater who often looked out of position. But as the season progressed he’s gotten better positionally, has earned a spot on the Stars top line, and has 19 points in 37 games.

And, perhaps, Gurianov’s best trait is his willingness to learn.

“A lot of times (younger players) will just filter into a drill and when they make a mistake you have to correct it,” Laxdal said. “The fact that he has enough security to say ‘what are we doing here?’ and the trust that I’m not going to get mad at him for asking a question. That says a lot to the coaches and his teammates.”

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