For possibly the first time since Pierre Turgeon was picked first overall, the Sabres have a player capable of making the jump to the NHL immediately from the draft.
Mikhail Grigorenko entered draft weekend as the fifth ranked North American skater and was ranked as high as number two for most of the 2011-12 season. While there were some speed bumps down the stretch that caused him to slip in the draft, Grigorenko is still a draft lottery talent that the Sabres were able to grab at number 12.
With Darcy Regier already trying to work on a contract, it seems as if the Sabres are going to give Grigorenko the opportunity to prove himself on the NHL roster. Since he is underage, Grigorenko is due at least a nine-game audition before burning a year on his yet-to-be-signed entry level deal. The fact that Grigorenko is doing and saying all the right things is making me more comfortable with him by the minute.
The Sabres under Ruff and Regier has not been an organization to rush prospects along. However, they have also only had one lottery pick (Thomas Vanek) to make such a decision on. Only Tyler Myers in 2008-09 and 2009-10 had the Sabres in a pinch as to the course of action they wished to pursue with a top prospect.
Not only is Grigorenko an elite prospect with gaudy numbers, he fills a hole the team has been trying to fill for well over 12 months. In fact, by the time prospect camp begins, it will be a full calendar year since the last solution at center (Ville Leino) was brought onto the roster.
The decision to put Grigorenko right into the NHL will probably be decided by what the Sabres do in free agency. However, this doesn’t seem like it would be a bad idea.
Regier would need to make a move or two to clear a spot down the middle for Grigorenko to play in – unless Tyler Ennis or Derek Roy goes back to wing – and I think another effective, scoring winger might be needed.
I don’t hate the idea of Roy on the wing, but the Sabres remain overloaded on the left side (Vanek, Leino, Gerbe, Foligno) and would be looking at even more saturation if Roy or Ennis was to be switched out from center. The lack of depth on the right side (Pominville, Stafford, Kaleta, Tropp, McCormick) is somewhat discouraging. Vanek is a righty but considering him on the right side is too far off target and not the point.
The point is that the Sabres not only have an electric player poised to make his NHL debut in as soon as four months. There is no doubt that stealing a lottery pick at number 12 is a luxury few teams come across. This marks the third year in a row that the Sabres were able to get a prospect ranked much higher than the spot in which they were picking.
It is my belief that Grigorenko will have a contract by the end of July and will be set to impress at training camp. Any sort of impressive play at camp and through the preseason – if it is to occur – will provide more than enough evidence as to why he should remain with the big club.
The first nine games will produce the verdict, but I’m hoping the Penguins, Red Wings, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers Bruins and Coyotes provide the launching pad for Grigorenko to take off from.