Note: this post has been edited, based on the news that Marcus Foligno will be scratched against the Florida Panthers tonight.
As my colleague Tim Redinger wrote the other day, Mikhail Grigorenko is not being given much of a chance to succeed with the Buffalo Sabres. For starters, he has endured healthy scratches galore, something that ex-coach Lindy Ruff referred to as part of the growth process for young players. Through games 20, Grigorenko has played in 16, which is the same number that fellow rookie Mikael Granlund has played for the Minnesota Wild. I’m not a fan of the healthy scratch for learning purposes – but I’m not a coach, so I’ll shut up.
If we can forgive the healthy scratches, though, we still have to look at how much Grigoernko has played when he has suited up, and here the comparison to Granlund forces me to question the Sabres’ approach with their Russian rookie. Through his sixteen games, Granlund has averaged almost 20 (19.6) shifts a game, with an average of 14.75 minutes of playing time a night. Grigorenko? 14 (13.6) shifts and 10.4 minutes. Clearly, Minnesota is letting Granlund develop on the ice, not on the bench, and while neither rookie has scored a ton of points (one goal and five assists for Granlund; one goal and two assists for Girgorenko), Granlund’s three points in the last five games suggest he is benefitting from the ample amount of ice time he is seeing.
So the question is, where should the Sabres put Grigorenko, and how much time should they play him? I read through the comments on Tim’s post, and although everyone seems to agree that Grigorenko should be playing more, no one seemed to have any ideas on where to put the poor kid. Never one to shy away from the tough questions, I have devised a solution: throw Grigorenko on the second line, along with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Play Grigs at center, use Ennis and Stafford as your wingers, and watch the magic (or chaos) unfold!
Playing Grigorenko on the second line accomplishes a few things. For starters, this move not only gets Grigorenko more playing time, which is obviously what we all want to see, but it gets him on the ice with a genuine offensive weapon. I can see Grigorenko providing Ennis with a ton of quality scoring opportunities as their chemistry develops; after all, his scouting report does highlight his “ability as a playmaker,” with the ability to make “high-level reads quickly and effectively.” Why not give him a player like Ennis for whom he can create offense? Anyone here see him pairing with Patrick Kaleta to create an explosive scoring line?
Second, putting Grigorenko at center on this line moves Ennis back to where he ought to be playing: the wing position. Sorry: I enjoy watching Ennis play, but he’s not a center. Ennis has the build and speed of a winger anyway, so why keep trying to make him something he is not?
Third, pairing Stafford with Grigorenko might help Stafford start to, you know, actually score again. If Stafford continue to produce such amazing numbers as the 23 shifts, 13 minutes, two shots and zero points line he put up against Tampa Bay, he may find himself a healthy scratch in the not-so-distant future.
With a season already on the line, and the offense hit or miss most nights anyway, I fail to see what the Buffalo Sabres have to lose by playing Grigorenko a little more, on a better line. Hell, I’m even tempted to throw him on the first line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, but Grigorenko has not earned that right yet, nor has Cody Hodgson done anything to be shifted to a different line. Playing Girgorenko on the second line is something Ron Rolston should experiment with, as soon as possible. Hey – they play tonight, don’t they? I know – I’m a dreamer, but in my opinion, the Sabres need a few more people willing to dream big if they want to crawl out of the Northeast Division basement.
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