Every Buffalo Sabres fan seems to have their eye on one player these days: Mikhail Grigorenko.
The Russian phenom has come to training camp and captivated the collective masses, from fans to the media to his potential teammates. Whether they praise his vision, his poise or his skating, most seem to think that Grigorenko should be sticking with the Sabres this year.
Now, the legions wait for the most important vote of them all: Lindy Ruff.
Ruff certainly has not hidden the fact that he feels Grigorenko has played and practiced well over the course of camp. With a day off Thursday and rosters needing to be finalized Friday, one would think that Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier are coming to a decision tonight about the short-term future of their potential star-in-the-making.
So why should he stay?
The simple answer is, as of right now, the Sabres don't have a true third line center on the roster. Beyond Grigorenko, the Sabres are looking at the possibility of having to use Jochen Hecht, Cody McCormick or Matt Ellis at center on the third and fourth lines.
Grigorenko is certainly not defensively acclimated to Lindy Ruff's system, and that is what got Luke Adam in trouble last season, but Adam didn't have the defensive capabilities of Steve Ott and Ville Leino on his line. Grigorenko also immediately makes Leino a far more dangerous offensive threat and Steve Ott has the ability to pot some goals as well.
With Hecht in that slot, the offensive push of that line is immediately diminished, and it becomes a defensive line that doesn't help the Sabres' long standing issue of secondary scoring that has been hampering them since Danny Briere and Chris Drury left in 2007.
Not that you can or should expect Grigorenko to come in and score 30 or 40 points in the shortened season because that would be incredibly naive. Even if he adds 20 points, he's probably doing great things for the team and his fellow linemates.
Hecht had some success over in Germany, yes. But to think he can score 12 points in six games in the NHL is ridiculous and that's not even considering his injury propensity the past two seasons.
McCormick and Ellis are fourth line guys, and they play a vital role in that position, but having the ability to move Hecht down to the fourth pivot and have those guys take on wing responsibilities will likely be the best option for the team.
Are there risks with Grigorenko staying up? Sure.
He's 18 years old and might get physically battered, especially against grittier teams like Boston, Philadelphia and the Rangers. He may not pick up the system quickly and may be lost for most of the year.
Many have pointed out that he didn't "tear up" the World Juniors like he should have, but to say that means you just looked at the stat sheet at the end of the game and saw he wasn't posting three point nights. He was everywhere on the ice and only—easily—outplayed Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the draft last year.
But, in reality, the biggest risk is that he only plays third or fourth line minutes, and his development is stunted by the lack of playing time, especially given the fact he'd be playing 20 minutes a night in the QMJHL guaranteed.
So, that's the real decision. It's not whether or not he's good enough to be here. The question is whether or not being here is the best situation for him and his development moving forward.
To think he won't be here next season is almost laughable given his performance in camp this week, so he knows he's not too far off, but should he be here now?
Based on who they have placed on waivers—Kevin Porter, Mark Mancari, Nick Tarnasky and Adam Pardy the last two days—it seems they have plans for him to stay with the big club. At least for five games.
Ruff sees his offensive upside and his patience and his skating, so giving him beneficial time is just a matter of him assimilating himself to the NHL game.
Don't be surprised to see that happen real fast.
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