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Denisenko's Skill Stands Out

Russian forward has what NHL teams crave

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 22-23. Grigori Denisenko is the No. 7-ranked International skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 16th overall selection at the draft.

In today's NHL where speed and skill are highly sought-after, Grigori Denisenko appears to fit the bill.

The Russian forward stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 176 pounds, but it's his puck-handling ability and the pace in which he plays that makes him stand tall among other players expected to go early in the 2018 NHL Draft.

That combination of speed and skill could make him a perfect selection for the Colorado Avalanche at No. 16 overall, if he's still available. NHL Central Scouting ranks him as the seventh-best international skater heading into the 2018 draft.

"He's a little bit smaller, but he plays a skilled, fast game," said Avs director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple to "Plays with a little bit of an edge, has some compete to his game, but the skill level will make him a player at the National Hockey League level."

Born in Novosibirsk, Russia, located in the south-central part of the country and roughly five hours northeast from the Kazakhstan border, Denisenko has played recently in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system--the same one that current Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov competed in before he was selected in the first round in the 2006 draft.

Denisenko, 17, has spent most of the past two seasons with Yaroslavl's junior under-20 club, where he produced back-to-back 22-point seasons. He had nine goals and 13 assists in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 campaigns.

His final year of junior hockey last season ended with a celebratory trip around the ice with a trophy above his head. He helped Loko Yaroslavl to the league championship after recording five goals and seven points in 12 postseason contests.

Denisenko also saw his first pro hockey action when he appeared in all four contests with Lokomotiv in the Kontinental Hockey League's Gagarin Cup Playoffs in March. He could play full time in the KHL next season.

He has represented Russia internationally at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (won a bronze medal), 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last August and the 2017 World Junior A Challenge in December, the latter of which he produced a goal and three assists in four games.

"He was the best player at the World Junior A Challenge; the most electric player from any team, including the United States and Canada," said NHL Central Scouting's Karl Stewart to "He instantly separated himself from all his peers and teammates in that tournament."

Denisenko is a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane (who is a similar size at 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds) and has drawn comparisons to another Russian forward, the Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov.

Video: Grigori Denisenko Scouting Report

Those are two players that have the right amount of flash while carrying the puck and thunder when shooting it.

"I think I'm very skillful and like to play a fast, creative game," Denisenko said of his playing style to "I enjoy the pretty moments that end up happening because of that creativity."

NHL Draft weekend will not only mark a new chapter in Denisenko's professional career, but also in his personal life as well. He will turn 18 years old on Sunday, June 24, two days after the league's summer selection begins in Dallas.

Getting an NHL team's jersey and hat on the draft stage after hearing his name called will be quite the way to celebrate the occasion.

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