Sabres fans can finally take solace in the fact that the team has a pair of big, talented centers in the system. Buffalo chose Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th overall pick and then trade up to select Zemgus Girgensons at number 14.
Grigorenko’s stock had slid in recent weeks with allegations that he was basically a typical, lazy Russian and those allegations allowed the Sabres to snag him at 12. However, Grigorenko was still the third-ranked North American skater entering the draft. His 85 point season (40+45) for Quebec in the QMJHL shows as much. Based on the way the opening picks played out, Buffalo was fortunate to pretty much have their pick of the littler based on who was available at 12. Their obvious need for a center and Grigorenko’s availability made for an easy choice of the best player available.
The selection of Girgensons wrapped up a 365-day cycle between the Sabres and Flames that began at the 2011 Draft when Buffalo acquired Robyn Regehr. To get up to 14, Regier hit up Jay Feaster, who is quickly becoming the target for Regier’s most maniacal trade propositions. Buffalo was able to leap seven spots to select Girgensons with the 14th pick.
The price to move up was Buffalo’s second first-round pick (21 from Nashville) and their own second-round pick (42) in this year’s draft. The Sabres still have pick 44, acquired from Calgary last season. Calgary chose to take Mark Jankowski, a forward from a Quebec high school prep league, slated to play for NCAA
powerhouse doormat, Providence next season. Jankowski probably projects to a four or five-year project and has many question marks surrounding the competition he played against prior to the draft.
To recap, Regier traded Paul Byron, Chris Butler and the pick that became Jankowski for Robyn Regehr and the pick that became Girgensons. The second round pick exchanged is basically a wash since the Sabres retain the pick they received from the Flames in 2011. Suffice it to say I am okay with the way that shook out.
Girgensons has received some interesting praise. Pundits like his hard-nosed game and scoring touch. He has the mix of size, grit and talent that so many teams are searching for. A product of Dubuque (USHL), he has committed to Vermont for next year. There is some question as to his CHL rights (Kelowna, WHL) and the ability for him to sign a contract and play in the AHL immediately. I’m a little cloudy on how that rule plays out, but it is different than the nine-game limit players from the CHL endure.
Darcy Regier deserves high marks for the moves he made in the first round. While Grigorenko is a risk-reward pick, Girgensons is well respected and could be considered a steal when you consider where the Sabres were originally slated to pick.
Personally, I didn’t love the selection of Grigorenko based on some of the rumors surrounding him. While I don’t question his talent or potential, I wonder which direction he will trend. He could become another Evgeni Malkin or become Marek Zagrapan (not Russian, I know). The upside is that Grigorenko is a luxury. He is a big (6’3″ 200lbs), ultra-skilled center with a high ceiling. If he doesn’t pan out, the Sabres have the ownership capable of fixing the problem. The necessity to hit a home run with every draft pick is a thing of the past.
The best part of the Grigorenko selection is the fact that he is a lottery talent. His playoff performance and the questions surrounding it pushed him down the board, but he made a number of confident statements leading up to the draft. Getting the third-ranked skater at twelve is similar to the slide Ryan Getzlaf endured on his draft day and plenty of Sabres fans would love to see him in blue and gold.
As for Girgensons, if he comes as advertised, he is just what the doctor ordered for the Sabres. He has good size (6’2″ 198lbs) and has been playing in North America for three seasons. By all accounts his is gritty and has a scoring touch. He was quoted as saying he models his game after Ryan Kesler, while Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan are other names used to describe the big center. His commitment to Vermont likely means he will be at least one season away from a contract, but that looming mystery about his AHL eligibility could be interesting to explore.
Looking at the bounty the Sabres landed on day one of the draft gives them a two high-end talents at the center position. Grigorenko is in the NHL-ready group who is likely a strong training camp away from an NHL roster spot. Meanwhile, Girgensons could probably make the jump to the AHL (if eligible) and begin learning the system immediately. Combine these two with Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis and the Sabrs could be set at pivot for some time.
Personally, I’d like to see each get a contract and be playing professionally next season. Each has the tools to step into the professional game, Grigorenko mores than Girgensons, and it would be beneficial for each to begin honing their craft in the system immediately.
I love the idea of fast tracking these, two. The Sabres remedied their shortcomings down the middle and even have the opportunity to inject both players immediately. Why not take advantage?