Once the Charlotte Checkers were knocked out of the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs in late April, Grigori Denisenko was one of the many brought up to join the Florida Panthers for their postseason run.
And, due to Matthew Tkachuk’s fractured sternum, Denisenko was the only one of the Charlotte players called up who appeared in the Stanley Cup Final.
When the Panthers open training camp about three months from now, Denisenko says he wants to be back in Sunrise.
After three professional seasons in North America, the Panthers hope he is there as well.
“I want to be back here,” Denisenko said. “I want to play for the Panthers next year. We’ll see how it goes. You never know.”
Although the Panthers hold Denisenko’s rights as a restricted free agents, as he says, you never know what can happen in an offseason.
Denisenko was born in Novosibirsk, Russia, and started his professional career playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL.
There is always the possibility — perhaps a probability — he gets a contract offer to come home.
Denisenko was drafted 15th overall by the Panthers in 2018 but did not join the organization until 2021.
Over the years, however, Denisenko has expressed a willingness to develop with the Panthers either in Florida or with the Checkers.
In his first season with the Panthers, he spent much of the time in Florida due to the expanded taxi squad allowed because of the pandemic.
His 2021-22 season was cut short due to a fractured kneecap, but this season, he got in a full season splitting time with the Panthers and Charlotte.
“He missed two years of hockey and then jumped a level,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said in January.
“He just needed to play a whole bunch of games. … 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.”
Denisenko, 22, was able to find a bit of a rhythm as much as a player splitting time between the NHL and AHL could.
He got into 18 games with Florida this season before he went back to Charlotte for good in February.
All told, Denisenko played in 56 games for the Checkers, scoring 12 goals with 36 points.
With the Panthers looking to build depth within their forward group, he is a strong option to be a part of that this coming season.
“This was much better than last season because I didn’t play much due to the injury,” Denisenko said.
“This year started a little slow, it took me time to build up and get going. But I got better and better and found my game. It was a good year of development for me. The 18 games I got here were a good experience, gave me some more experience. It was a good year.”
Denisenko’s season was highlighted last Tuesday night when he made his NHL playoff debut in Las Vegas.
With Tkachuk out of the lineup, Florida put in Denisenko and he ended up playing 10 shifts in the season-ending loss.
Still, being part of the Stanley Cup Final was not something he thought much about when this season started.
“It was incredible,” Denisenko said. “Obviously I had not played for a month being a part of the Black Aces, but it was a good experience for me. It was an incredible atmosphere, something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK