A dominant playmaker both in the QMJHL and in U20 international competition, Grigorenko was a fixture in junior hockey highlight reels thanks to his slick stick handling and dazzling array of passing skills. He also showed a keen shooting aptitude with 29 goals in 32 games with the Quebec Remparts before winning a job with the Sabres to start the shortened 2013 NHL season.
Playing the center position in the best league in the world can be a difficult proposition for an 18-year-old, and Grigorenko certainly endured highs and lows while adjusting to the pace of play, strength of the opposition, and requisite consistency that is demanded at the game’s top level. At the same time, he showed flashes of the deft touch and the change of gears needed to keep defensemen guessing. Expectations will be high in 2013-14 with an NHL roster spot already reserved, but the talented Russian has all of the physical tools to earn the minutes needed to achieve the goals set out for him.
The Sabres veteran leadership core will need to show him the way, but there is no question that the size and vision is there to make a significant impact for a franchise ready to develop another high-level offensive engine. The keys to success entering the middle year of his entry-level contract lay in him being receptive to coaching, improving his skating stride, and displaying the ability to play as big as his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame suggests. He doesn’t necessarily need to enter the corners like a ball of fire, but leaning into defenders more along the boards should see him win his share of one-on-one battles, and in turn bring out the best of his cerebral skills.
As a centerman, his play in the defensive zone will need to mature as well. Retreating beneath his goal line in support of his defenders and tying up sticks in front of the net will be priority one. If he can add speed and improve his own-zone acumen, he may very well function in the mold of an Evgeni Malkin style of player for years to come.
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