What’s Broken: Mikhail Grigorenko Or the Buffalo Sabres

Since the Buffalo Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko 12th overall in 2012 there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Grigorenko. Actually even before he was drafted there was a ton of controversy. Grigorenko has been with or in the Sabres organization for 2 years and it’s safe to say the situation isn’t panning out the way many had hoped. So the question becomes why? Is it the Buffalo Sabres or

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Mikhail Grigorenko?

Take a look around the NHL right now, there are tons of young prospects prospering with their respective teams. Take a look the Calgary Flames 2013 first round pick Sean Monahan who already has 3 goals on the season. He’s their team MVP right now and a large reason why the Flames aren’t winless like the Sabres. What’s the difference between a player like Monahan who was taken 6th overall and is playing on a team equally as bad as the Sabres and Mikhail Grigorenko? Sure Grigorenko was taken 12th, but let’s remember he was projected to go inside the top 5. With more experience than Monahan, shouldn’t Grigorenko also be lighting it up?

Look at 19 year-old Tomas Hertl, who was drafted after Grigorenko in 2012, he put up 4 goals in a game the other night and already has 6 goals in just 3 games this season, where Grigorenko has 0.

But perhaps the most telling person to compare Grigorenko to is his own teammate and linemate, Zemgus Girgensons. The two were taken just two picks apart in the 2012 draft and while Grigorenko was ranked miles ahead, it’s Girgensons making a much better impact early on. Girgensons looks far more mature on the ice. He’s play with fire wanting to make a difference and as a result he’s got people excited for his future. Sure Girgensons isn’t scoring 4 goals a night, but he’s competing hard and battling to make a difference every night and that’s a great sign for a young player. Right now Girgensons is playing better and showing more potential. If Girgensons turned into the top-level prospect he is, in the same system Grigorenko is in, then what’s the problem?

Seriously, you have to take a step back and wonder if this is a Mikhail Grigorenko issue or something the Sabres are doing wrong with the yougnster?

Although completely different players, Grigorenko’s development is reminding me of Nazem Kadri‘s time with the Leafs. From day one there were people critical of Kadri and how long it took him to break into the NHL full-time. He’s been called lazy, mismanaged by management, heck they haven’t stopped throwing him under the buss and still he’s shown flashes of greatness. No matter what Kadri does there is always a negative story following him.

What’s in question with Grigorenko? His work-ethic and effort and you could come to the conclusion the Sabres have mismanaged him, especially last season after burning a year of his contract. Rolston said he is waiting for Grigorenko to show more of a competitive fire and to pick up his urgency and those were two of the knocks against him heading into the draft.

So why is a skilled player like Grigorenko not lighting up the NHL like other rookies? Is he being used wrong by the Sabres? I’m not of the notion he belongs on the first line and I think the third line is a good place for him right now, but could he benefit from other linemates? Is he lazy like people are say? Does he not want to succeed like other rookies? Could he use some more time in the Q? Is it time for Rolston to just put Grigorenko out there with Thomas Vanek and see what the two can do and what he can learn? Are the Sabres not giving him enough opportunity to succeed?

It’s evident that Grigorenko could use some time playing in the AHL, but unfortunately he can’t be sent there. Do the Sabres consider sending him back to the Q so he can get his mojo back and be a dominant player again? Or do they keep him up with the big club to play his way out of whatever funk he’s in and learn how to play in the NHL?

Fans of the Buffalo Sabres I’m asking, why is Mikhail Grigorenko having such a difficult time adjusting to life in the NHL? Is it Grigorenko or the Buffalo Sabres? Please leave your answer below and maybe we can figure out the puzzle that is Grigorenko together.

Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Mikhail Grigorenko, Puck Drop, What's Wrong

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  • Michael McBurney

    Some good points of course, but even more good questions… I keep wondering if the reason why the vets appear to be floating aimlessly and the youth appears to by flying aimlessly, may go to a disconnect between a coach with meager NHL experience and players (re: systems, expectations, roles, etc.). But then Rolston has a long history working with youth, so he *should* be the perfect guy to give Grigorenko the devel. support he needs, right? And Larrson too? I mean there’s gotta be something we’re missing that the coaches have full front in their brains to explain why these kids aren’t getting some prime ice time and opportunities.

    I’m good with Hodgson having the 1C lock and totally get the Hodgson/Vanek pairing, but you’d think with all the aimless stuff and general lack of consistency in the top six, there’d be little to lose from shuffling Grigorenko, Grigs and Larrson up and around the top six. Put Grigs on Hodgson’s wing and give them the chance to work with fellow youth in the rebuild. Give Vanek the leadership duty of working with Larrson and/or Grigorenko as his center…

    It’s not like mixing it up a bit would hurt the team’s results ;-)

    • Caitlin Campbell

      sitting virtually 0-6 there is no harm at all throwing Girgensons and Grigorenko and Larsson into the top 6. Try Girgs on the top line wing.

  • Timothy Redinger

    It really isn’t fair to compare Grigorenko and Girgensons – Girgensons benefitted from a year of AHL play last year, while Grigorenko is deemed ineligible to play in the AHL. I am sure Grigorenko would have come around much differently if he could have played at least a year in Rochester as well.
    The blame here is squarely on the Sabres – they mishandled Grigorenko’s contract, kept him here beyond the ten game tryout so they blew his first year by sending him back.
    The difference between us and the other teams – they have given their prospects room to grow and excel – they were thrust right into the fire and did well.

    • Jes

      well said Mr. Redinger.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      Fair enough… Girgs has been given more time to develop in the system and it shows. This dumb AHL rule is really hurting Grigo’s game.

  • davidmuscalo

    As a practicing environmental professional, whenever I have a difficult or confusing situation to analyze, I go back to the basics. I think in Grigo’s case, he just isn’t as good as Regier thought he was. I think, with time, he will become a productive player, but I doubt he will ever be marqee pivot we all hoped he would become.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      I’m starting to doubt his ability to be the key pivot we all expected. As long as he can make solid contributions and be an upper-level player I think he’ll be fine.

  • Jes

    Wow….

    Monahan is better than Grigorenko and Monahan I believe is getting good minutes on top two lines. So that’s not even a fair comparison.

    Rolston’s being an idiot shuffling Grigs back and forth between the 2nd and 4th lines. You guys gotta give a player a chance. 2 games simply isn’t enough time to get used to 2 new line mates. Theoretically this is his 2nd year in a Sabres uniform but he is still a rookie, and this is the 2nd coach he has played under in less than 50 NHL games. He is still a rookie. The way your treating might as well complain about Ristolainen as well. He’s done absolutely nothing since being here. Minus the prospects tourney and preseason he’s been invisible. And to be honest minus the goalies on this team no one has showed up so far this season. People make a big fuss about Girgensons playing so well? He hustles on shifts here and there but for the most part that 1 goal was such a lucky bounce, lucky he even got it. Just because Girgs is throwing checks and playing his game doesn’t mean you can compare the two. They play two very different styles of games. And as far as Hertl goes the guys playing on a team with Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Burns, Cotoure and Boyle, Grigorenko would be scoring on that team as well. Setoguchi and Cheechoo were scoring like all stars on that team.

    In conclusion give him a chance. Give him good line mates. The guy needs a scorer on his line. Girgensons simply isn’t that right now. And Flynn? Forget about it… He should get a shot at centering Vanek and Foligno. Hodgson isn’t doing all that well on that line either. I believe this move could easily benefit both lines.

    • Michael McBurney

      Hodgson clearly isn’t the problem on his line. The revolving winger is the big pull back from getting a full line click going, and anyway if the fault for that line’s struggles goes to either Hodgson or Vanek, I’d pick Vanek – the veteran leader who seems to but more energy into sulking, than skating, around the rink.

      That said, don’t see the harm in swapping things around to get the youth into the top 6 while making use of Vanek’s talents and experienced leadership & Hodgson’s talents and rookie leadership…

      Vanek-Grigorenko-Foligno
      Girgensons-Hodgson/Larrson-Larrson/Hodgson.

      Basically lock Vanek, Foligno and Girgs as your top 6 wingers and swap around Hodgson/Grigorenko/Larrson between center and wing depending on the game scenario (5-on-5, PP, d-zone or o-zone starts, etc.). Get the youth working with each other and Vanek/Hodgson talking to them.

      • Caitlin Campbell

        A Vanek- Grigorenko- Foligno line would be sweet to watch work together and Girgs- Hodgson-Larson would also be interesting to see. I like your line combo’s you coach!
        The youth aren’t succeeding right now, it’s time to give them that opportunity.

  • Dano

    I see all 3 sides of this.

    1.) Regier and the Org really tossed the kid into the frying pan. Should have kept him up for the 9 games and then sent him back down. You dont promise someone they will make the team before training came is done as well when there is competition for spots. It puts division in the organization and its one of the MAIN reasons I think Regier should be outright fired. Not disregarding over a decade of other ‘ scrooge ‘ doings under Gallisano.

    2.) The kid really doesnt impress me. He was Hyped up in the draft. I saw him very close to top 3 by one scout then down to 9, then rumors about his work ethic came out that he was another ‘ lazy russian ‘ that doesnt play defense and his stock fell even further.

    The rankings by the scouts and the draft doesnt really matter, he was drafted. First round, last round.. doesnt matter, he was drafted. He was drafted because he can play the game. How well or how things pan out are on his shoulders. He can either make the best of the situation OR..

    3.) Being a Russian, the KHL is waiting for him. Its HARD to draft a russian these days as they know the Motherland will take them in a heartbeat. If you dont offer them the world, they will leave. Even if you DO offer them the world, they STILL might leave : Hello Kovalchuk! Russian players do have a doorway that a lot of North American players really dont.

    As Tim Redinger stated, Grigorenkos contract was mishandled by the organization.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      I like your take on this Dano. It’s becoming so difficult to entice Russian players to give it their all in the NHL when the KHL is calling. They want to come to the NHL to say they made it in the best league- almost like status… but after a few years what’s stopping them from heading to the KHL?
      I also agree that he was a little too hyped up in the draft. From top 3 to top 15 he bounced all over the place.

  • lamarred1118

    Sending him back to the Remparts could actually mess him up more when you consider that there is a new head coach there. He is better off staying here and getting the experience of the NHL and the knowledge of a coaching staff(Rolston, Sacco, Forton) that has done well on the developmental level. Maybe getting Zadorov on the squad helps him get more inner motivation by being able to discuss things in his own language with someone who might be a friend. I know he was good friends and a linemate with Freddie Roy in the Q, the fact that the Sabres picked him up after he was passed over for the draft should not be lost on people.

  • Joe

    He needs to be put on the first line with vanek and hodgson so we can see wat he can do given the ice time and opportunity. Not like the sabrws canget any worse right? I do agree he shows a lack of energy on the ice. I also believe e should play his size more and be strong in the corners and in front of the net

    • Caitlin Campbell

      He’s got great size and really should utilize it in his game, it would help him create space and open up ice for himself. He can’t play on the first line avec Hodgson because both are natural centres who don’t play the wing, so a Foligno or Girgensons would need to join Vanek and Grigo on the top line.

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  • Joe Mazurkiewicz

    I would try to work a TRADE W/the Av’s to get O’Rielly & Stasny,but the BIGGEST problem is still & will be darcy running this team!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • mike

    The Sabres and it’s not even really a discussion.. Last night they had him playing with JOHN SCOTT and CODY MCCORMICK. Outside of the odd shift with future waiver Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter, he’s been stuck with those two and Kaleta.

    The team is terrible, so eff the line combos and get him out there with Ennis and Foligno, or someone with some actual goal scoring/play making ability.