Note: This article is part of a top-10 countdown of the Buffalo Sabres' top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has to be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.
The Buffalo Sabres found themselves in a position they never felt possible at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft: In the position to draft Mikhail Grigorenko.
Grigorenko was slated as a sure thing top-five pick for most of the 2011-12 season, ranking up there with Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Ryan Murray, all of whom went in the top three. An extremely talented pivot with size and obvious hockey IQ, Grigorenko seemed like a slam dunk to go early in the draft. He was even compared to Evgeni Malkin by a number of scouts.
But then came the questions.
There were knocks on his desire to play in the NHL given his obvious KHL connections. There was also a lot of talk on his hustle and even whether or not he was really 20 years old, and not 18.
But his coach in the QMJHL, NHL legend Patrick Roy, never has questioned his hustle or desire to play in the NHL, and he cited mono as the reason for Grigorenko's lethargic play in the later part of the season last year.
Despite all the knocks, Grigorenko still finished with 85 points in 59 games, which is extremely impressive for a major junior rookie.
So after being drafted 12th overall, Grigorenko seems to have returned to the QMJHL with a chip on his shoulder.
After being overshadowed in the offseason by the undrafted talent in the league, including 2013's top-pick candidates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, Grigorenko has taken over the league.
In 30 games, Grigorenko has 29 goals and 50 points, good for fourth in the league. His play also has the Quebec Remparts on top of the TELUS East Division with a 22-8-1 record.
When the NHL gets around to playing again, Grigorenko has certainly made a case for his nine-game tryout. The general school of thought is that Grigorenko will have the inside track on the Sabres' third-line center spot, but that will depend on how well his QMJHL dominance translates to the NHL level.
Grigorenko has the ability to be one of the most talented Sabres ever. Sabres fans certainly hope those Malkin comparisons are accurate.
Here's a recap of the rest of the countdown:
10. Jake McCabe
9. Connor Knapp
7. TJ Brennan
5. Mark Pysyk
2. Joel Armia