The Florida Panthers have signed 2018, 15th-overall pick Grigori Denisenko to a three-year, entry-level contract. This is a huge step forward for the Panthers.
Who Is Grigori Denisenko?
In 38 KHL games this season, Denisenko acquired 6 goals and 6 assists. Those point totals do not jump off the page as anything to be particularly excited about, however it is important to view them in proper context. Denisenko was Lokomotiv’s 11th-ranked forward in terms of ice time. The KHL has a tendency to favor veteran players over younger players in terms of on-ice usage. To that end, his 12 points in 38 games was only behind SKA St. Petersburg’s Kirill Marchenko for points by an Under-20 player in the KHL.
Denisenko is an exceptional offensive talent with an accurate, high-velocity shot. In back-to-back seasons at the World Junior Championships, he was Russia’s leading scorer and one of the top point producers in the tournament. His speed, lateral movement and edgework are all at a level that would be expected of a future top-six NHL forward. He’s also an accomplished playmaker with good hockey IQ and strong on-ice leadership capabilities.
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Where Denisenko sticks out, though, is his extra gear. He has the ability to dig down and find extra speed at times when he absolutely needs it. In spite of his 5-foot-11 frame, Denisenko does not shy away from playing in the difficult areas. His footwork and hands are on full display in wall battles and his speed is utilized as much in getting to loose pucks as it is on a breakaway or odd-man rush. He is everything an NHL team is looking for when they are trying to draft a top offensive player of the future.
The Wait Was Short
Often Russian prospects are treated as a big gamble. The KHL works very hard to keep young star players playing in Russia. To that end, top-end young talents often stay playing in Russia well into their 20s.
Not the case with Denisenko. On April 7, it was reported by Igor Eronko via Twitter that Denisenko had refused a contract offer from his KHL team.
What Does This Mean For the Panthers?
The Panthers have successfully brought over to North America a young, uber-talented wing with 38 games of professional league experience under his belt. With the uncertainty of the salary cap going forward, it will be important for the Panthers to get contributions from young players on entry-level deals.
Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov and Erik Haula are all unrestricted free agents. Salary cap concerns may see the Panthers losing one or more of these players to free agency. Having Denisenko in North America gives the Panthers hope that he could fill a forward role for them as soon as 2020-21. Combine this some of their other young forward prospects and the Panthers’ short-term future outlook is looking bright.