Sabres prospects shine at World Juniors

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Mikhail Grigorenko helped his team clinch the bronze medal.

Mikhail Grigorenko was one of the most highly watched players throughout the tournament, as he was one of the veteran leaders for Team Russia. He anchored Russia’s top line, played on the first power play unit, and was a key contributor to Russia’s offensive success. Grigorenko finished the tournament tied for ninth in scoring with eight points, and was Russia’s leading scorer. With his five goals and three assists, Grigorenko was voted as one of Russia’s best players by the coaches.

The highlight of the tournament for Grigorenko was the opening game against Norway, in which Russia won 11-0. Grigorenko finished the game with a goal and two assists, and also had a +4 rating in the game. Grigorenko finished the tournament with a second best +9 rating behind Finland’s, Teuvo Teravainen. Grigorenko was also a huge factor in the win over the United States in the quarterfinal, as he posted a goal and won 67% of his faceoffs.

Nikita Zadorov also had a big tournament for Team Russia. He was second in the tournament in defensive scoring, but had the most goals for defenseman with four. He was also strong on the defensive side of the play, keeping players away from the front of the net and playing strong along the boards. Zadorov was one of two defenseman voted to the media All-Star team for the tournament.

The highlight of Zadorov’s tournament came against the United States in the quarterfinals. Down 2-1 in the second period, Zadorov was playing on the point for Russia’s power play. The Americans took two penalties to put themselves in a two-man disadvantage against the Russian’s threatening offense. Zadorov gave Russia two power play goals on that 5-on-3 to give Team Russia a 3-2 lead. The Russians would not look back the rest of the game, as they went on to eliminate Team USA from the tournament.

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Rasmus Ristolainen celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime against Sweden.

At times throughout the tournament, Rasmus Ristolainen would play every other shift for Team Finland. Along with Zadorov, Ristolainen was the other defender that was selected to the media All-Star team.

The highlight of the tournament for Ristolainen was in the gold medal game. In overtime against Sweden, Ristolainen gathered a loose puck along the boards, beat his defender and drove hard to the net.

Ristolainen was then able to slip the puck underneath the pad of Sweden goaltender, Oscar Dansk, and net the “Golden Goal” for Team Finland. With his performance in the tournament, Ristolainen was also awarded the best defenseman of the tournament by the directorate.

So now that the tournament is over, where does that leave all three players?

Nikita Zadorov will continue his season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and further develop his game there. In eight games played with London this season, Zadorov has two goals and four assists.

Rasmus Ristolainen is slated to return to the Rochester Americans and continue his development in the AHL. In five games with the Amerks this season, Ristolainen has two goals and two assists. However, it would be no surprise if Ted Nolan recalled the young defenseman to let him play in Buffalo again.

Mikhail Grigorenko will return to the Buffalo Sabres where his future is undetermined. Grigorenko could be reinserted into the lineup with the injuries that the Sabres are currently facing. Grigorenko may sit and could be in-and-out of the lineup for the rest of the year. Or the Sabres could return Grigorenko to the Quebec Ramparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and try to let him further develop his game there. In 18 games with Buffalo this season, Grigorenko has only two goals and an assist. If Grigorenko sticks with the Sabres, he will have to prove to Ted Nolan that he is ready to play on a nightly basis in the NHL.

The future of the Buffalo Sabres showcased their talents in Sweden, and made the organization and community proud. The hope for all three players has never been greater than it is right now. As soon as next season, all three players will have a shot to have a permanent place on the Sabres roster, and help the team become to a Stanley Cup contender once again.

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