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Scouts split over best Russian forwards ahead of NHL Draft

Kravtsov stock rising after strong KHL playoffs; Denisenko draws comparison to Kucherov

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Vitali Kravtsov and Grigori Denisenko are two of the more electrifying forward prospects available in the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23.

Each has proven to be dynamic in his own way and is projected to be selected in the first round on June 22 (7:30 p.m. ET).

Which player has the higher upside?

 

[RELATED: Complete 2018 NHL Draft coverage]

 

Kravtsov, who played right wing for Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League this season, is No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of International skaters. Denisenko, who played left wing for Yaroslavl in Russia's junior hockey league, is No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's list.

They were in high demand at the NHL Scouting Combine. Kravtsov had 25 interviews with NHL teams, and Denisenko had 29.

"We have Kravtsov ahead of Denisenko mainly based on his excellent play in the KHL playoffs and he also was a regular the entire season with Chelyabinsk in the men's league," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting.

Kravtsov (6-foot-2, 170 pounds), 18, was named KHL rookie of the year despite scoring four goals and three assists in 35 games averaging 9:19 in ice time. He had an increased role in 16 KHL playoff games, with 11 points (six goals, five assists), the most in a single KHL postseason by an under-20 player.

"I feel like I'm a smart player and was able to overcome the fear of making mistakes playing a full season in the KHL," Kravtsov said through interpreter Olga Khmylev. "I think that will translate well over to any league in the future. I got the experience against big, strong men."

His playmaking and powerful skating stride certainly benefited him against those veteran players. Kravtsov, who is signed for one more season in Chelyabinsk, became the youngest player (17) to score a goal in the Gagarin Cup in 2016-17.

Denisenko (5-11, 176), who turns 18 on June 24, has always been on the radar of NHL scouts, but his play for Russia at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia in December really opened some eyes. He was dominant at even strength and on the power play, finishing with one goal and three assists in four tournament 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 Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting. "He instantly separated himself from all his peers and teammates in that tournament."

Denisenko is expected to play for Yaroslavl in the KHL next season.

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

Video: Woodlief on the top prospects in the 2018 NHL Draft

Denisenko said he's a big fan of Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

"He's always working with his hands and feet and he's super fun and exciting to watch," Denisenko said. "I like to watch imaginative plays happen. I like those magical, fairytale-esque shots because you need to make a show of the game."

Kravstov was asked the differences between he and Denisenko.

"We both play good hockey but there are times when I play a more skillful, technical game," Kravstov said. "Denisenko plays more of a hard-hitting, tougher style."

Craig Button, TSN resident director of scouting, NHL analyst and a former NHL general manager, said Denisenko reminds him a lot of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.

"I love Denisenko's creativity, he can make plays and finish plays," Button said. "I think Kravstov is a scoring winger. He's going to need the puck on the move and when he gets the puck on the move he's got the size to get things done, but I think his game is more narrow than Denisenko's. Denisenko can score in multiple ways, off the rush, in tight, off the cycle, and he's incredibly imaginative and hungry to score.

"In my opinion, Kravstov has to get the puck on the move and needs a center that's going to distribute it to him. Denisenko has a multiplatform game."

Denisenko, asked if he felt he was the most skilled offensive player of this draft class, didn't hesitate to agree with that assessment. He had 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 31 regular-season games for Yaroslval in the MHL, and seven points (five goals, two assists) in 12 playoff games.

"Kravtsov will be able to use his size and push his way to the net to gain scoring chances when he fills out, but I don't think he's as skilled in the hands as Denisenko," said one Western Conference scout. "Denisenko is shiftier and a little more elusive, and he has to be at his size."

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