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2018 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Grigori Denisenko

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The talented Russian winger is a rare case of being far more talented than his stats would suggest.

Photo: HC Lokomotiv

Name: Grigori Denisenko

Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL)

Stats: 9 Goals, 13 Assists, 22 Pts, 30 PIM, +8

Position: RW

NHL Central Scouting Ranking: #7 (European Skaters)

NHL Comparable Player: Artemi Panarin (oh yea: I hate comparables)

One of the inevitable questions of watching a young player is whether that flashy move stuck on a youtube highlight reel can be pulled off at the NHL level.

I think this is a red herring. A player’s skills are either there, or they aren’t. They can either dangle around three players trying to defend them, or they can’t. They can either slap the puck over 100mph, or they can’t. Skill translates better than production. In most cases, there’s not a wide enough gap between the two to be skeptical of either. Grigori Denisenko is not most cases.

Denisenko was not even a point per game through 31 contests this season with Loko. Yet a lot of draft analysts have him ranked in the first round. Steve Kournianos has him ranked as the 8th best winger in the entire class (and has him going at #27 to St. Louis on his final mock draft). Corey Pronman is even higher on Denisenko. For that reason, I’ll steal as much as I can from his March article profiling the young Russian.

When I think of Denisenko, I think of my own musical tastes. Some bands attract with something obvious: a groovy riff, a catchy beat, etc. Other bands like to attract you with something less obvious, like hitting transitions with mood, and subtlety. Think the difference between Slayer and Opeth.

Denisenko is pure Slayer. His rhythm is just flat out obvious.

Gif by Corey Pronman from The Athletic

This looks like your garden variety but extremely awesome highlight reel clip at first glance, but watch it again. Denisenko wasn’t looking for the toedrag; he actually does it in reaction to the defender’s pokecheck. On the PK no less...

This is one among many examples of Denisenko’s talents. He’s not just a fast puck handler. He’s an intelligent one too. In combing through as much footage as I could find this was the difference between him and players like Valeri Nichushkin or Denis Gurianov — Denisenko has very good vision.

Gif by Corey Pronman from The Athletic

Similar to my profile on Dominik Bokk, you see what gifted puck handling buys: time and space. Denisenko never lets himself get put in danger of being pokechecked; even when he’s inching closer to the net, he keeps his head up and his feints going to eventually find the open man across the ice.

At 5’11, and over 170 lbs, Denisenko could still use some more muscle. Though he’s versatile in all three zones, he won’t win as many puck battles as you’d like. Because he wants the puck as much as possible, there are times when he’s hoping it’ll simply come to him rather than actively take it. This can make him more passive without the puck than you’d like.

But the main criticism is a pointed one; if he’s so talented, why doesn’t he score more points?

I honestly couldn’t tell you. There’s not much information on Denisenko’s role with his MHL team, so whatever context could clarify his numbers aren’t there. At #13, Denisenko would be considered a massive reach. But if he’s still there in the 2nd round (where Scott Wheeler has him), Dallas would be foolish to pass on him.