Before the World Junior Championships, Mikhail Grigorenko was hoping he would be loaned to Team Russia for the tournament. He got his wish, and was able to play for the Russians.
After playing well in the tournament and winning the bronze medal, Grigorenko was eager to get back to work with the Sabres. However, he only spent one day in Buffalo before Pat LaFontaine and the organization loaned him back to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Grigorenko was not happy, and the 19-year old teenager reportedly was not going to report to the Remparts. Grigorenko was persistent that he wanted to stay in the NHL and play with the Sabres.
Grigorenko sat and talked with Pat LaFontaine on Saturday about the team’s decision to send Mikhail back to juniors. In the 30-minutes they spent, LaFontaine told Grigorenko that he wanted to get him the playing time, which includes the top line and special team minutes that he would not get with the Sabres.
In a statement that he wrote on his Facebook page, Grigorenko wrote:
“I would like to apologize for the situation that is taking place right now around my move to Quebec. We simply need to find a place where I can grow as a player, to continue my development. I came to North America 3 years ago from Russia where I never had a bed, shower or heat. I worked every day to become the best player to help my family. Because hockey is everything to me.
“I am thankful that I could play in Quebec for one of the best coaches in the world, great fans, in a great city. I had to face against strong players who are now playing in the NHL. I am proud that I was selected by Buffalo in the NHL draft. I really like the city and its people. The club has the owners who want the best for the team and it’s fans. Right now I want to ask everyone to show respect to me and give me time to think about my career. It is difficult to understand, more so for a teenager.”
Grigorenko has since removed the post from his Facebook page.
The next day, after having a night to sleep on the decision, Grigorenko accepted his demotion to Quebec. Grigorenko could play for the Remparts as early as Saturday against Rouyn-Noranda.
“We had a really good talk, I spoke to Timmy and the old school part of it is you really have to earn it, there has to be a standard, you can’t hand things to anybody they’ve really got to earn it,” said President of Hockey Operations, Pat LaFontaine. “I said to him I want you to experience winning and maybe win a championship, be a leader, compete in all areas of the ice.
Grigorenko cannot be sent to the AHL due to a contractual agreement with the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL. In the agreement, it will not allow any of the league’s teenagers play in the AHL.
In the NHL, it has been a struggle for the young kid, only putting up three goals and five assists in his short 43-game career. In 92 games in the QMJHL, Grigorenko has put up some substantial numbers by scoring 139 points. Last season, after his first stance with the Sabres, Grigorenko scored just 30 goals in 33 games played with the Remparts.
Grigorenko has proven that he can dominate at the junior level. Grigorenko has the skills to be an offensive threat, but his game at the professional level still needs some work. Grigorenko turns 20 in May, and will be eligible to play for the Amerks next season. Until then, the only options are to stay in Buffalo or be returned to Quebec.
So whom do you blame for Grigorenko’s lack of success so far in the NHL? One would have to look at Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff for the demise of Grigorenko. It seemed like a good idea at the time to let the 12th-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft to play with the team and get his chance. Looking back now, Grigorenko was clearly not ready for the big league.
Grigorenko has not been able to keep up to the pace of the NHL, and it showed with him playing third and fourth line minutes. How can a player develop playing on the fourth line between John Scott and Cody McCormick? Grigorenko has two years of his entry-level contract burned, and only one year remaining on his current deal.
At this point in time, the only thing to do is to return Grigorenko to juniors and let him develop and play key minutes there. Grigorenko will return to Quebec for 23 games, and will help the Remparts contend in the playoffs for the QMJHL Championships. With this demotion, one can only hope that this will drive Grigorenko to play better and be the player we want to see in him.
“We’re doing what we think is best to develop our players and care for them and what they need,” LaFontaine said. “I really believe under the situation and all the circumstances it’s the best place for him.”
It is time to just press and hold the reset button with Grigorenko. When he comes back to training camp next season, it should be a clean slate for him and the organization. He will have his chance once again to make the roster, and will have the AHL as a luxury next season if necessary. Just be patient, Buffalo.