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Denisenko 'going to be special' for Panthers

Forward, who was selected No. 15 in 2018 Draft, has skill to play in NHL this season

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Grigori Denisenko made a good first impression at Florida Panthers development camp, and with his skill set, there's a chance the polished forward could start next season in the NHL.

"Why not?" Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's got explosiveness, he's got size and strength and ability, so why not give him a shot?"

Denisenko, who was selected by the Panthers in the first round (No. 15) in the 2018 NHL Draft, had 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 31 games for Loko Yaroslavl of Russia's Junior Hockey League. He also had seven points (five goals, two assists) in 12 playoff games as Loko Yaroslavl won the league championship.

He made his debut in the Kontinental Hockey League in the postseason, appearing in four games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.

"He's a great kid," said Panthers director of player personnel Bryan McCabe. "It's not an easy week coming off the Draft, not speaking English, coming to Florida for the first time. He's going to be a special player for sure from what I saw this week."

The selection of Denisenko marked the fourth consecutive year the Panthers picked a forward in the first round of the NHL Draft, following Lawson Crouse (No. 11) in 2015, Henrik Borgstrom (No. 23) in 2016 and Owen Tippett (No. 10) in 2017.

"He's just a dynamic, explosive, skilled guy," Tallon said. "He's just one of those kids that's a special winger. Gets into traffic quickly and he's explosive in traffic and can score and make plays. He's very creative, very fast."

Borgstrom and Tippett each made their NHL debut last season and will be looking to earn a roster spot in training camp among a deep group of forwards. Denisenko said at the Draft he thought he was ready for the NHL, but at development camp, his biggest focus was continuing to improve his game.

"It's not my decision if I'm going to make NHL this year or not," he said. "[Panthers coach Bob Boughner] is going to make the decision, but I'm going to try to do my best to make NHL this year. I'm going to show my best game and only [Boughner] will make the decision if I'm going to stay this year in NHL or not. It doesn't really matter. It's just a goal to make sure I improve every single year.

"It's still hard to say how far I am from the NHL because I've never played in the NHL. I'm doing my best every single day I'm on the ice. I'm going to continue working hard, I'm going to continue improving and I'm going to do the best so I can play in the NHL as soon as possible."

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