Panthers Take Grigori Denisenko 15th Overall

From Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the MHL in Russia, the Florida Panthers selected winger Grigori Denisenko with the 15th pick. He is a smallish forward at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds but skates well, is skilled, and has great hands. Think someone like Artemi Panarin. Denisenko has the raw talent that compares well with any non-top-five prospect in the 2018 Draft.

Related: 2018 NHL Draft: Complete First Round Results

With a need to develop his defensive game and cut down on bad penalties, he is a bit of a project but could develop into the most productive forward in the draft class. But, considering he was 17 on draft night, he has the time to develop. He safely projects as a top-six forward.

Grigori Denisenko, Florida Panthers, 2018 Draft
The Florida Panthers took Grigori Denisenko with the 15th overall pick. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers reached for him as he was expected to go late in the first round, the result of the ‘Russian Factor’ rather than his talent and abilities. He has a similar skillset to Florida’s 2017 first round selection, Owen Tippett.

THW’s Prospect Profile Excerpt:

As a traditional Russian winger, Denisenko boasts tremendous puck-handling skills, excellent skating with high top speed, and a good nose for spotting an open partner.

He spent most of his year with the national junior team and played in the MHL, the Russian junior league, where he posted very good numbers for a player of his age, with nine goals and 22 points in 31 regular season games. With the national team, he was particularly good, amassing six goals and 11 points in different tournaments. At the end of the season, Denisenko had his KHL debut, playing in the playoffs against SKA, without scoring any points but having a number of great offensive plays.

Grigori Denisenko, Florida Panthers, 2018 Draft
The Florida Panthers took Grigori Denisenko with the 15th overall pick. He is shown here as a member of Loko Yaroslavl of the MHL. (Grigori Denisenko. Photo: HC Lokomotiv)

Denisenko is very talented, and naturally many NHL teams will be behind him. He’s got top-10 talent, but the Russian Factor and his size will most likely push him down. A pick in the second round is not out of question, even if he will be probably one of the first 31 players called. Many NHL teams may also be concerned by his maturity. He likes to (over)play the puck and is prone to “bad discipline” penalties. As he will keep on playing in the KHL, though, it is most likely that these kinds of issues will be ironed out.

Related: Grigori Denisenko – 2018 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Pre-Draft Ranks

  • THW Pike’s Pick: 20th (March)
  • Future Considerations: 21th (Spring)
  • ISS: 12th (March)
  • Bob McKenzie: 21th (Mid-season)
  • Craig Button: 19th (March)
  • Jeff Marek: 15th (March)
  • McKeen’s: 15th (March)
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Quotes About Denisenko:

“Mysterious circumstances surrounding his absence from the U-18s aside, when he’s on his game, he has world-class speed, skill and hands.” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet, April 28

“Denisenko possesses most skills associated with today’s modern-day offensive forward — speed, agility, deception, finishing, playmaking and explosiveness.” – Steve Kournianos, The Sporting News and The Draft Analyst

How Does this Affect Florida’s Plans?

The Panthers have now drafted a forward with their first-round pick each of the past four years. This year marks the third straight in which they used their first two picks on forwards. They have been successful developing forwards including Henrik Borgstrom and Maxim Mamin, both from the 2016 Draft and reached the NHL in 2017-18.

The Panthers have good depth down the middle with Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, both 25 or younger. They also have a plethora of quality wingers in the top-six including Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgeni Dadonov, Nick Bjugstad, and recently-acquired Mike Hoffman. Assuming that management considered Denisenko the best available player, they now have a pipeline of talented forward prospects in their system.

The Panthers could have a top prospect break into the NHL each of the next few seasons. Tippett should be there in 2018-19 and Aleksi Heponiemi could be up in 2019-20 after a season in his native Finland. Denisenko has two years remaining on his KHL contract but could be in Sunrise in 2020-21. He is also eligible for the CHL Import Draft on Thursday, June 28 and could play in North America rather than return to Russia.

Others Taken 15th Overall

  • 1977 – Mike Bossy (New York Islanders)
  • 1981 – Al MacInnis (Calgary Flames)
  • 1987 – Joe Sakic (Quebec Nordiques)
  • 1991 – Alex Kovalev (New York Rangers)
  • 2008 – Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
  • 2014 – Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)