Mikhail Grigorenko is just 20 years old so it’s unfair to expect the world of him, but at the same time this should be a very important season from his perspective.
The Buffalo Sabres’ attempts to bring him to the NHL before he was arguably ready has created a situation where he’s already in the final season of his entry-level contract despite the fact that he’s played in just 43 games. The other way of looking at it is that Grigorenko has failed to live up expectations thus far despite being given multiple chances to prove himself in the NHL after being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“From past experience I realized it’s probably no one’s fault but mine that I didn’t go into the NHL,” Grigorenko said in July. “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.”
It is worth adding that Grigorenko has continued to show plenty of potential when he’s played in the QMJHL even if his performance with the Sabres has left something to be desired.
Although the Sabres are focused on the future and are therefore structured to provide young players with opportunities, Grigorenko is far from a lock to make the opening game roster. The silver lining is that he can now be sent to the AHL, which will give him a chance to gain experience playing against men so that he’s better prepared to eventually make the leap.
So this isn’t a make or break campaign for Grigorenko, but because his contract’s expiring, the difference between a breakout season and one where he’s stuck in the minors could be huge for him financially. Additionally, with Sam Reinhart looking to make an impact this season and the possibility that the Sabres will get another top forward prospect in the 2015 draft, Grigorenko might start to find himself becoming a smaller factor in the Sabres’ plans if he doesn’t establish himself in the not too distant future.