Columnist: Should the Leafs take a chance on Grigorenko?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have needed a No. 1 center since Mats Sundin left for Vancouver at the end of the 2007-08 season and for the entirety of Brian Burke’s tenure as general manager.

Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, and Tim Connolly are currently their top three men in the middle – not one of them is elite.

Nazem Kadri should be a full-time NHLer next season, but the jury’s still out on the 21-year-old with the slight build.

It’s why you hear Jordan Staal’s name come up in trade speculation.

And also why the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox’s column on Mikhail Grigorenko is worth a read.

The 18-year-old Grigorenko appears to be the falling star of this draft, although others — Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads has also plummeted — have also seen their draft rankings decline. On one hand, Grigorenko has the size teams love down the middle, he had 85 points in 59 games with the Remparts and played for Russia at the world juniors and for months he and Nail Yakupov were viewed as 1-2 for the 2012 draft.

On the other hand, the 6-foot-3 Grigorenko didn’t impress at the top prospects game last winter, then disappeared when Quebec coughed up a 3-0 series lead and lost a playoff series to the aforementioned Mooseheads. Later, it was revealed he had contracted mono, but his performance seemed to confirm in many minds that he simply plays when he wants to.

If Grigorenko is still available Friday when the Leafs pick at No. 5, Burke has a tough decision to make. There’s no questioning the Russian’s talent, and his upside is considerable – but is he worth the gamble?

There are other top-ranked centers in the draft, like Nail Yakupov’s teammate in Sarnia, Alex Galchenyuk, and Sweden’s Filip Forsberg.

Related: Top prospect Grigorenko looks forward to making future teams look bad for skipping him