BUFFALO — When the Buffalo Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th overall selection in 2012, many wondered if the team was taking a risk on a player whom many scouts differed on just how good he would be.
Since then, Grigorenko has started off the past two seasons in Buffalo only to be sent back to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts. The 20-year-old Russian forward is currently in the midst of his third prospect camp with the Sabres and knows he has a lot to prove this year. He also knows where to lay some of the blame for not sticking with the big club.
“From past experience I realized it’s probably no one’s fault but mine that I didn’t go into the NHL,” Grigorenko said at First Niagara Center on Tuesday. “If I want to play in the best league in the world, it’s just on me. No one’s going to make me play just because I was drafted in the first round. I just have to go out there and be the best.”
Being the best is something the Sabres have been eager to witness. In his abbreviated stints with the team the past two seasons, he’s scored three goals and added five assists in 43 games. In Quebec it’s been a different story.
Grigorenko has excelled against players his own age the past two seasons. In 56 games with the Remparts he scored 45 goals with 93 points. This season he’ll either be with the Rochester Americans in the AHL or Buffalo – a challenge he’s eager to accept.
“It’s going to be good for me to play against men for sure this year,” he said. “I’m really excited for this year. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get way better than I did last year.”
His time in Buffalo has come at an awkward point for the organization. He’s played for three different head coaches with Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, and Ted Nolan. With Tim Murray replacing Darcy Regier as general manager, it’s almost an entirely different organization. Throw in the coaches he’s played for with Quebec, Team Russia at World Juniors, and in the AHL with the Rochester Americans that’s a lot of different voices telling him what to do.
“It’s pretty tough,” Grigorenko admitted. “Learning the new strategies and some coaches like you more, some coaches like you less. You have different roles in each team you play for, I was lucky enough that all the coaches were all really nice to me. I thought every single coach I had tried to help me to be a better hockey player and a better person.”
After all he’s seen and gone through in his professional career to this point, you’d think he might have too much going through his head to help him become the dynamic offensive player the Sabres are hoping he’ll blossom into. That’s an issue he’s worked on to fix, but the pressure to perform in the NHL is clearly there.
“I need to think a little less,” Grigorenko said. “I just have to want the puck and go in on every single battle and want the puck. I’m an offensive player so I just need to score goals. I have to bring the offense. If I don’t score goals and don’t have points then I guess no one needs me on the team now.”
Grigorenko will look to earn a spot with the Sabres at training camp in September. He came into prospect camp at 218 pounds, up 10 pounds from last year, he said. He also credits skating instructor Dawn Braid for helping him get his stride and technique straightened out.
If all of those adjustments to his game and seemingly to his approach off the ice work out, the Sabres will have a potentially dangerous offensive weapon as part of their rebuild.