SUNRISE, Fla. – The newest member of the Florida Panthers organization is excited to begin a journey that will take him from his native Russian soil to a new life in North America, a journey he hopes will lead to a long career in the National Hockey League.
Grigori Denisenko, Florida's first round pick in 2018, has been a star on the rise during his adolescent years in Russia.
Now, after two years of tasting professional hockey with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Kontinental Hockey League, widely believed as the second-best hockey league in the world, the soon-to-be 20-year-old is looking to take his game to the next level in South Florida.
Denisenko signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers on Tuesday, nearly two years after Florida selected the then-17-year-old (he was drafted two days before his 18th birthday) with the 15th overall pick in 2018.
Speaking to Panthers media members through a translator on Wednesday, Denisenko conveyed an upbeat message, making it clear he was ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
"(I'm) very happy for this opportunity to play for Florida and (sign my) first NHL contract," Denisenko said through the translator. "(I'm) ready enough to play and be a great part of the team."
How and where Denisenko fits in will ultimately be up to Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville and General Manager Dale Tallon. He most certainly will take part in next season's training camp, but it's possible for him to join the team during the current season, if Quenneville feels he can contribute right away.
Denisenko, known as much for his scrappy, two-way game as he is for his slick hands and playmaking ability, is the kind of player that fits in well with Quenneville's possession system.
When that happens, unfortunately, is out of any of their control.
The global sports world has been all but shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That includes the NHL, which has been on pause since mid-March.
Once travel restrictions are eased, Denisenko will likely have a ticket on one of the first flights bound for South Florida.
"(I'm) ready (to travel) as soon as possible," he said. "When the airports open, (I) want to come as soon as possible, to search for (a) home, meet the team, meet coaches and (check out) the town."
Denisenko has yet to be in touch with any current Panthers players because, quite frankly, he doesn't know any of them. He quickly added that he's ready to reach out whenever it's possible, and several Florida players, including captain Aleksadner Barkov, speak Russian.
One message Denisenko seemed keen on getting across on Wednesday’s Zoom call was that he was coming to South Florida full of confidence and belief in his abilities.
“There’s not any kind of problems that can stop (me),” he said. “All the cultural differences, all the training differences, the people, the language barrier. There’s only one way to prove (myself) and make everything happen.”