After two years of roadblocks preventing him from hitting the ice consistently, Grigori Denisenko has found his groove with the Florida Panthers.
Denisenko only played 53 games in the previous two seasons due to COVID shutting down the 2020-21 AHL season and sustaining a broken kneecap midway through last season.
It took a while for him to return to form, but after posting 18 points in 32 games for the Charlotte Checkers, he appears to have found it at the NHL level.
”He missed two years of hockey and then jumped a level,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”He has got all of these things working against him at training camp and he just needed to play a whole bunch of games. He is a much faster hockey player than he was at training camp, he’s got way more speed and quickness in his game.”
While it has not translated to points yet — the 22-year-old has three assists in 10 games for the Panthers so far — he has played a heavy forechecking game on the third line that Maurice really likes.
“In his last three games, he has shown what his skill set is,” he said.
”He is willing to go into the dark areas, he can hang onto pucks and he can make plays under pressure, so that alone can get you in the NHL as along as you consistent with it.”
In the three games he has played since being called up from Charlotte last Monday, he has been just that.
Denisenko has been fearlessly jumping on loose pucks and holding onto them in battles in the corners and he was rewarded for it in the third period of Florida’s 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
The Panthers’ first-round pick in 2018, Denisenko is strong on the puck behind the offensive zone.
Saturday, he threw a nice pass in front for Gus Forsling to catch and score the eventual game-winner with.
It was his first point of his most recent call-up and his third in 10 NHL games this season.
Maurice is not concerned about the numbers just yet.
“For all of those guys looking to crack the NHL, they need one unique thing that the coach can understand and expect,” Maurice said.
”His is starting to be his compete in the heavy areas and he is going to do that every night. Some kids come in and they are just blinding fast, that’s just his thing. But it’s a hard thing to do. The question is whether he can do it every night but he’s been doing it.
”If he continues to do that, the points we will wait for and we won’t judge him by assists or plus/minus. We’ll just judge him by that.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK RANGERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Rangers won 2-1
- This season (Rangers lead 1-0): Rangers 5, Panthers 3 (Jan. 1)
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 58-32-8, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m.