Buffalo - August 8, 2014 - We’re still about two months out from actual NHL hockey (the horror!), so there’s still a lot of time and boredom left to deal with.
As a Sabres fan, there isn’t a ton to look forward to even when the season starts. Instead, the eye is constantly towards the future. Everyone knows the Sabres aren’t winning any time soon, but the good part of being so bad is that they have a plethora of talented youngsters who will theoretically turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender for many years to come.
We’ll take a look at the top prospects in the Sabres system and all of the dirty details on each, continuing today with one of the more highly-touted (and highly divisive) prospects in Sabres history: Mikhail Grigorenko.
How we got him: Heading into the 2012 NHL Draft, Grigorenko was ranked as the third-best skater in North America but questions about his attitude and the pesky “Russia factor” caused him to slide down the board to the excited Sabres at #12 overall.
Comparable Sabre of the Past: Marek Zapragan. Before you close this tab in a fit of rage, give me a second. Firstly, the Sabres haven’t had a prospect quite like him before. Secondly, I was tempted to compare him to Maxim Afinogenov and not just because both are Russian. Max was an exciting talent with a questionable work ethic who kind of put it together in bits and pieces but never for a prolonged period.
Unfortunately, I come to Zapragan because Grigorenko feels like one of those “highly regarded but never makes the team” guys who just can’t figure it out for whatever reason, be it attitude, work ethic or whatever. I want him to work out, but not everyone does.
Why he may be awesome: He’s a big offensive dynamo. He’s patient with the puck and has the ability to find open ice or hit someone in stride with a fantastic pass. Grigorenko isn’t an overpowering skater, but he’s smooth in his motions and shows the hands needed to bury opportunities when they come to him.
He’s a special talent offensively and has garnered comparisons to fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin in that regard. If he fulfills the immense talent he has, Grigorenko could be a superstar in the NHL.
Why he may not be so great: For as big as he is, he’s nowhere close to being a physical player and so far in his pro career has shown a desperate need to get bigger and stronger. Being 6’3” is great if you’re not getting pushed around by opponents.
Grigorenko’s work ethic has also come into question more often than not. He’s struggled to improve on the pro level in the little stints he’s had and that leads one to wonder if he’s going to ever really figure it out. Still, this is a guy who scouts have described as being the best guy on the ice while going only 75%.
Ceiling: High. Like I said above, he’s got the kind of talent that scouts salivate over and the offensive skills to be a superstar in the league. Big, skilled centers don’t just grow on trees and the Sabres nailing this pick would likely go a long, long way towards making them contenders in the future.
General excitement level: Moderate. At the time of his selection, this was astronomical. As I said, the Sabres hadn’t had a prospect this talented in decades. A disappointing stint in Buffalo later and I’m wondering if he’s got the will to really be the superstar that he can be.
What to expect: He’s still in desperate need of seasoning and it should be remembered that he’s still just 20 years old. Some prospects take more work than others, and in the case of Grigorenko, that certainly seems to be the case here. Hopefully, 5-10 years from now, we won’t be talking about the massive bust that was Mikhail Grigorenko.
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