After Andrei Svechnikov, Grigori Denisenko could be the second-highest selected Russian-born player in the draft. He played the majority of the year with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the MHL, the junior affiliated league of the KHL, but also joined the Russian U-18 team on a few occasions during the season.
Birthplace: Novosibirsk, Russia
Weight: 165 lbs.
Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavi
In his appearances against the top prospects of other countries, he managed to produce 11 points in 14 games, a pace that resembled what he had in the MHL with Loko: 22 points in 31 games, and seven in 12 during the playoffs.
But beyond the numbers, there's an incredibly skilled forward, likely one of the top in the entire draft in terms of pure potential ability. Denisenko looks like a player who is in perfect control of the puck at all times, even through his fast-paced shuffling of it and at full speed.
As he moves from zone to zone, he can beat opponents one-on-one in a multitude of ways if they skate too slowly against him, and do so very smoothly: go under their sticks, push the puck through feet, or, as he gains the zone, make a quick and powerful cut to the middle to fire a shot.
He can release quickly with his wrist shot and is not afraid to use bodies as screen, or aim through legs for the same purpose. He doesn't always show pinpoint accuracy, but he is often looking to improve his shot location to give himself the best angle and chance at beating goalies. The work he puts in in this area is something that could make him a deadly scorer as he matures.
He is a very good skater with great form, capable of making rapid adjustments with his edgework, accelerate to outmanoeuvre opponents, or straight up beat them with his speed.
On the power play, he is at home on the half-wall as he moves around looking for passing lanes through the middle of the ice, untouched due to his quick reaction time with possession. He shows good vision and patience, but also the ability to make quick one-touch passes if he catches an open teammate in a scoring position.
At the Five Nations tournament in February, Denisenko had good chemistry with Svechnikov. On the man advantage, the two Russian forwards were taking turns releasing one-timers from each other's feeds through traffic, constantly turning the heads of the opposing defence.
Denisenko isn't a defensive forward by any means, but he is used on the penalty kill with Loko Yaroslavl, which at least demonstrates that he is trusted in this aspect of the game. In general, learning to make quicker plays at the top of the zone on the breakout should lead to more opportunities for his team to skate the other way to create offence.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
ISS Hockey: #18
Future Considerations: #20
NHL Central Scouting: #7 (NA Skaters)
Hockey Prospect: #11
McKeen's Hockey: #20
There seems to be no limit to what Grigori Denisenko can do, besides the ones that he imposes on himself. He unfortunately has some inconsistency issues. Despite his ridiculous package of skill, which should lead him to dominate most shifts, Denisenko can go the full length of a game without creating much for his team.
With how well his feet and hands work together, he could be using deception more through his stickhandling moves to freeze defenders, enabling him to keep possession under pressure longer and gain a larger separation from opponents to make a more frequent use of his scoring tools.
Right now there are a lot of flashes, but it might not be enough to rank him as a top pick in June with certitude.
It's very likely that his position on NHL draft list varies a lot from team to team. I'd guess that some have him in the top-15 and others only in the second round depending on how confident the organizations are that, with his growth, his skills will generate the impressive results they can. The Russian factor is also, once again, something to consider.
Like some other intriguing players, Denisenko is a latish birthday, turning 18 only on June 24. It's likely that he is a bit behind the 1999 birthdays in his development. This could be another point that influences how he is perceived by scouting teams.