Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers select 17-year-old Russian winger Grigori Denisenko with No. 15 pick in NHL Draft

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22:  Grigori Denisenko poses after being selected fifteenth overall by the Florida Panthers during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Grigori Denisenko poses after being selected fifteenth overall by the Florida Panthers during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Panthers first-round draft pick

GrigoriDenisenko should find himself in some comfortable surroundings when he makes it to South Florida.

The 17-year-old (he turns 18 on Monday), who was selected with the 15th pick in the NHL Draft at the American Airlines Center, is from Yaroslavl, Russia, and doesn’t speak English.

But speaking through an interpreter, he said he follows the Panthers and is looking forward to being around the Panthers Russian-speaking players like EvgeniiDadonov and AleksanderBarkov. The Panthers also recently signed Russian defensemanBogdanKiselevich.

Denisenko is 5-11 and 176 pounds and is a dynamic player. He was a bit of a wild card in the draft because of his inconsistent play this season which had some teams wondering exactly what type of player he can become.

The left wing, who shoots right, is a strong skater with good puck possession skills and is more of a playmaker than a shooter.

“He is an explosive forward with outstanding speed and dynamic offensive instincts,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told FloridaPanthers.com immediately after the pick. “He had an excellent season in the Russian junior league and was called upon to play in the playoffs in the KHL. He will be an excellent <FZ,1,0,12>addition to our young core for years to come.”

When asked when he thought he might be ready to play in the NHL, Denisenko said it will be up to the Panthers to determine that, but said he thinks he could be ready next season. Standing in the way of that is his contract for two more seasons with Yarosloval, but his interpreter said there is also the possibility he could come to North America to play major junior hockey next season.

Denisenko needs to get bigger and stronger to compete against men. He had 22 points (nine goals and 13 assists) in Russia’s top junior last season. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 12 games to help Yaroslavl to the junior league championship.

He also made his debut in the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs, playing four games for Lokomovit Yaroslavl.

He helped Russia win bronze at the 2016 U-17 World Hockey Challenge.

There’s no doubting Deniskenko is a high-end talent and could be one of the steals of the draft if he can bring more consistency to his game.

Along with big centreHenrikBorgstrom, the Panthers first-round pick in 2016, and Owen Tippett, selected No. 10 last year, the Panthers have the next generation of offensive players poised to start pushing their way into the lineup over the next coupe of years.

The NHL draft continues Saturday with Rounds 2-7.

The Panthers hold the 34th pick (trade with the Arizona Coyotes), 184th, 201st and 207th picks. They received that last pick from the San Jose Sharks in the deal that landed scoring wing Mike Hoffman on Tuesday in exchange for a package of draft picks.

The Panthers sent the Sharks a second-round pick in 2019 and their fourth- and fifth-round picks this weekend.

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