Buffalo - January 21, 2015 - Somehow, Mikhail Grigorenko already feels like a restoration story.
It’s easy to forget that he’s just 20-years-old, his entire future still shining very brightly ahead of him. But before this year, it seemed like that future had abruptly come to a screeching halt.
Coming out of the 2012 NHL Draft, the Sabres were thrilled to have landed the big, talented Russian pivot with the 12th pick in the draft. After all, Grigorenko had the talent to be a top five pick if it weren’t for those nagging questions about his desire and work ethic.
Then came the disaster of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He spent 25 games in Buffalo, toiling mostly on the fourth line. He looked lost, as most skinny 18-year-olds would playing at that level. The Sabres had burned the first year off of his entry-level contract, but even worse is that they didn’t seem to know what to do with Grigorenko. Matters were compounded by the fact that his junior team no longer had a spot for him. He couldn’t go back to junior and was too young to go to the AHL. The press box became his fate and the entire hockey world wondered if it was all over before it ever even started.
Grigorenko quietly returned to the Quebec Remparts part way through the 2013-14 season, scoring like the big-time talent everyone thought he was. He finally got some time in the AHL with the Rochester Americans, but nine games wasn’t enough to see where he really was.
This season, though, it’s become evident that all the young Russian needed was a little patience and TLC. He’s been very good in Rochester this year, scoring 10 goals and 29 points in his 34 games there. He’s looked more confident, played a better game and he’s not only receiving the confidence of the coaching staff, but the big-time minutes that go with that.
He’s done well enough that he’s earned 12 games in the NHL this year. He hasn’t looked like the dynamic offensive talent everyone thought he’d be – to be fair, he wasn’t given the linemates nor the time to do that – but he hasn’t looked like the lost 18-year-old we saw two years ago. He looks stronger, more confident and ready to claim his spot in the NHL for good.
Still, the Sabres are being smart with him now. Despite the feeling that he might be ready to stick with the Sabres for good, the team wants him to stay in Rochester this year to earn big minutes and develop his game further. This makes even more sense when you consider that the Sabres will be competing for the bottom of the standings this year and keeping a young player like Grigorenko in the big leagues makes little sense unless he proves to be so good he can’t possibly be sent back.
Buffalo faithful might have to wait until 2015-16 to get a full-time look at Grigorenko, but with the way he’s progressed, they can expect to see a much different version when he arrives on the scene for good.
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