The 2023-24 season is shaping up to be an important one for Florida Panthers forward prospect Grigori Denisenko, the team’s 15th overall pick of the 2018 Draft.
To-date, the 23-year-old has recorded 7 assists in 26 NHL games over three seasons, with the majority — 18 of them — occurring last season.
Now coming off his entry level contract, and signed to a two-year league minimum AAV contract this summer, it is time for Denisenko to secure his position within the team.
Looking at how the Panthers’ forward roster was built this summer, it is likely that General Manager Bill Zito planned for this.
A complete and reliable Top 9 is a key component of any team that intends be a serious contender in the league, and the Panthers have eight players that you could confidently claim fit the mold. Those being Aleksander Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues, Eetu Luostarinen, and Anton Lundell.
Behind those eight are four — Ryan Lomberg, Steven Lorentz, Nick Cousins, and Kevin Stenlund — who are best used as depth options on the fourth line. Additionally, Rasmus Asplund and Brett Ritchie — who is expected to be signed to a PTO — could factor in as they both possess considerable NHL experience.
Between the two groups lies Denisenko. He has the talent to play with the Top 9 but has only begun to scratch the surface on translating his AHL scoring production — 36 points in 56 games last season — to the NHL.
With the open roster need and the faith the front office has shown, along with the trust the coaching staff has shown — as evident by his Game 5 appearance in the Stanley Cup Final — it is hard to believe a better opportunity with the Panthers will come Denisenko’s way.
Potential for breakout performances from below
While the door is open for Denisenko to play a prominent role on the Panthers this season, the potential for someone else to step up and seize the opportunity remains.
Cousins, Lomberg, Lorentz, and Stenlund are relatively known quantities in the league, but I do wonder if someone like 25-year-old Rasmus Asplund could find his footing in the preseason and earn a roster spot and build off the 27 points he had in the 2021-22 season with the Buffalo Sabres before stumbling in 2022-23 with only 8 points and multiple healthy scratches.
Looking even younger than Denisenko, everyone will be keeping an eye on 20-year-old Mackie Samoskevich — the Panthers’ 2021 first-round pick — in preseason camp.
Coming off an impressive two-year college career that peaked with him scoring 20 goals and 43 points in 39 games last season, he immediately followed up with 6 points in 9 AHL games.
Samoskevich is expected to start the season with AHL Charlotte, but if he impresses in camp and catches fire early in the AHL season, he could force the team’s hand if Denisenko and the rest of the aforementioned depth are unable to round out the Panthers’ Top 9 forward core.
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