The Florida Panthers and 2018 first-round pick Grigori Denisenko came to a contract agreement back in May, but with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, when that entry-level deal would kick in was up in the air.
On Wednesday, the Panthers officially signed Denisenko and announced his three-year contract would start in the 2020-21 season.
Denisenko, the 15th overall pick by the Panthers in 2018, is expected to battle for a roster spot whenever the next training camp begins.
Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed Wednesday that Denisenko would not be joining the Panthers during the NHL restart for practice purposes.
“He is very happy for this opportunity to play for Florida, to get his first NHL contract and says he is ready enough to play and a be a great part of the team,” Denisenko said through an interpreter in May.
The Panthers are extremely high on the speedy winger who was one of the top players at the World Championships last December.
“He has high-end skill and ability,” Quenneville said Wednesday. “You don’t want to use the word ‘Wow’ until he gets here and we see him, but there is a lot we liked from afar.”
With the future of pending free agents Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman unknown, the Panthers could have both Denisenko and Owen Tippett (who has been working outside the top 12 forwards at the onset of this current training camp) battle for spots among Florida’s scoring lines for next season.
— Anton Vasyatin (@avasyatin) September 9, 2018
“We are going to give them every chance and he and Tippett are going to battle for spots on our team,” general manager Dale Tallon told me in May when the team announced it had agreed to terms with Denisenko.
“We don’t care how old you are or what experience you have. Coach Q will make that decision, but we like what those guys bring to the table.”
Said Quenneville: “Organizationally, everyone is excited and thrilled that he is coming here. We’re looking forward to seeing him as we progress in the next year. He has a lot of promise, there is a lot of talk about him. We got to see him in the junior setting at the World Championships where he played a big role in big games on a big setting. He got great exposure in that area.”
Denisenko has spent the past two seasons playing in the KHL for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and did not put up very impressive stats.
In 38 games with Lokomotiv this year, he had six goals and 12 points after getting six points off two goals in 25 games the season before.
“Every year, playing in Russia in the KHL, gave me a chance to show what I had,” Denisenko said in May. “I am ready to go [to Florida] and give a fight.”
Tallon, who has seen Denisenko play numerous times in junior tournaments, said being buried on a fourth line role with Lokomotiv did not suit his style and contributed to his pedestrian stat line.
The #FlaPanthers agree to terms with forward Grigori Denisenko.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 5, 2020
Playing against opponents his own age, however, Denisenko was dominant. This year, he captained Russia to silver at World Juniors and had nine points off three goals in seven games.
The year before, Russia took bronze as Denisenko had four goals with five assists.
“He hardly played [in the KHL], didn’t get any ice time on the big club so you don’t see the point production,” Tallon said.
“When he played in the World Juniors and those kind of tournaments, the kid is dynamic. He is an exciting young player.”
Denisenko spoke to the South Florida media from Russia in May and said while he did not know what his immediate future held, he was excited to get going with the Panthers.
Florida has a number of Russian speaking players — including captain Sasha Barkov and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — which could help with the transition process.
“We haven’t had a chance to spend much time with him but know that he has signed, we are elated to be able to work with him now,” Tallon said.
“It is a difficult step for any kid who comes over here from a foreign country. We’re going to help him in any way we can, will give him every tool to be successful.
“We’ll get him a tutor, help him learn the language. We’ll do whatever we can to make him as comfortable as he can. We have a great group of guys around the team who will help him out.”