What can Grigori Denisenko improve?

Grigori Denisenko has the potential to become a good NHL winger. But how can he improve to have a chance with the Vegas Golden Knights?
Vegas Golden Knights v Columbus Blue Jackets
Vegas Golden Knights v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

Grigori Denisenko is in a unique position. The Vegas Golden Knights need reliable forward talent that can contribute consistently. For the youthful star, he can make his presence felt. Mind you, crazier things have happened in the NHL (take the 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars making a Stanley Cup Final run as a perfect example).

Still, it doesn't hurt to look at the 23-year-old's viability in the lineup. For one, he's an offensive juggernaut, able to make plays and set the tone. Denisenko can also crack a game wide open with his handles and smooth stride. In essence, he should be the ideal player that the Golden Knights should seek.

After all, Vegas is set to lose five unrestricted free-agent forwards this upcoming offseason. There's an urgent need to fill the position with quality talent, especially with the team in the middle of a Stanley Cup contention window. Why not look at other talent to fill the void?

So what must the former first-round pick do to establish his name in Las Vegas? How can he not become a first-round bust (picked 15th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers) and become a Vegas Golden Knights fixture? Let's map out a road where the right winger can play regularly for Vegas.

Grigori Denisenko must add bulk

Not being the biggest hockey player on the ice can be tough for younger NHL prospects. Grigori Denisenko stands at 5'11" and weighs 196 lbs, which makes it hard for the young star to have a consistent role. He must add some weight to his frame and become a stronger player.

That's especially true with his defensive acumen not being on par with the other Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas plays a strong forechecking style, where relentless pressure is applied to take back possession. That's true in different cases, whether it's blocking shots or punishing opponents physically.

Denisenko is a player who cheats on the backcheck instead of getting involved. That's not good for a team like Vegas, who's carved their identity on the unit. The Russian prospect must learn to better himself in the unit, starting with adding much-needed size to his frame.

Act more disciplined

Grigori Denisenko has the offensive tools to become a regular forward. That's why he was a 2024 AHL All-Star, representing the Henderson Silver Knights. However, discipline remains problematic for the young star, especially in high-pressure situations.

For example, he's limited to playing on the perimeter, which is fine for starting off. However, expanding to play in more spots will help the youthful prospect, especially if he wants a regular role. Playing better away from the puck can also help him earn more time.

The good news is playing more in the NHL can help him with this. Learning how to hone his discipline will develop him into a viable player, building his confidence along the way. With Denisenko's 20 goals and 36 assists in 65 games this season with Henderson, he can establish himself with a routine role.

The verdict

Grigori Denisenko has an uphill battle to become a regular member of the Vegas Golden Knights. Numerous prospects are more viable for their future, including Mathieu Cataford and Brendan Brisson. Add in the fact he's a restricted free agent after next season and he might be one-and-done. Therefore, Denisenko must focus on his shortcomings to boost his chances.

First, contributing regularly to the forecheck and adding more bulk can make him a more attractive player. Vegas is in dire need of forward talent at the moment. By making himself better defensively, he can brighten his future and not be a one-off player.

He won't become an NHL superstar at his current trajectory. However, if he can also build on his offensive capabilities and develop more discipline, he can become a low-risk move with great rewards. That's what the Golden Knights have built their reputation on, getting low-risk players such as William Karlsson and Shea Theodore.