Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier finally made it public on Friday afternoon: Mikhail Grigorenko will start the season in the NHL. The kid was even given his own stall in the locker room, after spending the last five days getting changed on a plastic chair in the corner of the room.
The 18-year-old Grigorenko made Buffalo’s 23-man roster on the strength of a solid week of training camp, preceded by an impressive body of work this season in the QMJHL and World Junior Championship. Grigorenko has 50 points (29+21) in 32 games with the Quebec Remparts, and added two goals and four assists in seven games as Russia took home bronze at the World Juniors.
Grigorenko, Buffalo’s first round pick (12th overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft, now has five games to prove his NHL worth. When asked his opinion of Grigorenko’s play in camp, Regier smiled and simply said, “I think we should keep him around a little longer.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff said it’s somewhat disconcerting to not have the benefit of preseason games to assess Grigorenko’s NHL readiness, but he won’t let that cloud his judgement.
“You’re gonna have a lot of teams in the same situation that are trying to judge young players. You just want to make the right decision that’s going to set him up for his career. You wish you had more time, we don’t. But we’ve liked what we’ve seen. It’s all good so far.”
The 6-foot-3 Grigorenko has centered a line of Ville Leino and Steve Ott throughout camp, and has quickly shown a comfort level between his two veteran wingers. He’s a big man with soft hands, and that’s what Ruff considers as Grigorenko’s best asset.
“He’s a good playmaker. And he defends well for a young player. He’s defending against his teammates; you’d love the opportunity to see him in a preseason game against other NHL players,” Ruff explains. “He does have real good awareness and he understands the game. His strength really is his playmaking, and he’s shown that with quick hands.”
With 25 players on the ice today, the Sabres were immediately able to get down to the 23-man roster limit by placing forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick on Injured Reserve. This leaves them with 13 forwards and eight defensemen when they start the season at home to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
Defensemen Adam Pardy cleared waivers, and has been sent to Rochester. Forwards Kevin Porter and Nick Tarnasky also cleared waivers, and they are all expected to be in the Amerks lineup tonight when they host Syracuse.
Based on the line combinations at Friday’s practice, it would appear that Matt Ellis could be the odd man out for forwards on Sunday. Ellis has been skating for most of the week on a line with injured forwards Gerbe and McCormick.
Here are the other lines from today’s practice:
The defensive pairings were: Myers-Regehr; Ehrhoff-Sulzer; Sekera-Leopold; Weber-Brennan.
The Sabres will close out their week of training camp on Saturday with a 10:30 a.m. practice at First Niagara Center. Admission is free, as is parking in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
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