Mikhail Grigorenko: Where The Buffalo Sabres Ought To Be Playing Him

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

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?

Feb 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis (63) passes the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Buffalo 3-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Come on: leave your comments below, and follow me @theaveragedick to bug me on Twitter!!!

Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Mikhail Grigorenko

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  • Craig C.

    Richard, I couldn’t agree more. This mishandling of Grigorenko is another reason I was glad to see Ruff go. I hope Rolston doesn’t go along with the same modus operandi. If so, YOU should be the coach! I also hope Rolston does a better job
    of how to handle our backup goalie situation than Lindy did. Lord knows what
    Enroth’s confidence level must be now.

    • http://twitter.com/theaveragedick Richard Spalding

      You’re too kind, Craig! I might be a little too much of a “mad scientist” to be an NHL coach, though – spectacular one night, disastrous the next! :D

  • William Hunter

    I’d like to see them develop 3 scoring lines (like last post lockout team) and one true checking line. Here are a few combinations I have kinda thought might work well:

    Vanek – Hodgson – Ott (add a little grit to top line)
    Gerbe – Grigorenko – Pominville (nice balance of energy and talent)
    Foligno – Ennis – Stafford (yeah, I know..)
    Hecht – Porter – Kaleta (Porter could be swapped for Scott in games with tougher teams like BOS or TOR)

    I just think that the talent could be spread a little more effectively with the grit and energy, and it would benefit the team greatly. Giving Grigo a bonafide winger like Pommer could do a world of good for his confidence. Gerbe would also benefit from this, while the top line gets a little tougher to play against, and improves on the forecheck.

    • http://twitter.com/theaveragedick Richard Spalding

      I like your train of thought – aside from burying Ennis with Foligno and Stafford. My man Tyler would have to work WAY too hard on that line! lol

  • PaulR

    Grigorenko is a mere 18 years old – still a kid. Don’t expect too much from him right now. He’s physically smaller and weaker than many NHL players, and he’s not terribly fast either compared to his big-brothers in the NHL.

    He’s got good hockey sense though, and his passing and shooting are quite good for such a young kid in the NHL. Let’s hope he hits the weight-room regularly, and avoids the off-ice lifestyles of the likes of Derek Roy and Tim Connolly. If he does that, in two years he’ll still only be 20 years old, but he will have developed so much in that time, you will be amazed.

    • http://twitter.com/theaveragedick Richard Spalding

      You’re right – he’s young. I don’t expect him to truly be a first line player yet. However, for a team that is offensively challenged, you would think the Sabres would at least try moving him around to see if he can provide an occasional spark.

  • Justin Tosczak

    This is the only article i can find applicable to ask how Mikhail played last night against the Rangers. I live a long ways away and do not have any way to watch my Sabres play on TV. I was watching highlights, but it doesn’t exactly do it justice… Can anyone tell me how he played on the second line last night against new york? 03/12/13

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