Playing for Russia in World Juniors Will Be Valuable for Mikhail Grigorenko

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Playing for Russia in World Juniors Will Be Valuable for Mikhail Grigorenko
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Through his Facebook page Wednesday, Buffalo Sabres forward Mikhail Grigorenko announced he is heading back to Russia, stating "Flying to RUSSIA on Sunday with my brother Zadorov!!!!)))))))))"

Grigorenko's agent later confirmed to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald the post was indeed made by Grigorenko, and that it means what we all knew it meant—the struggling sophomore Sabre would be playing for Russia in the upcoming World Junior Championships.

The Sabres officially announced Thursday morning they would honor the request and loan Grigorenko to Russia for the tournament.

The 19-year-old Russian's punctuation tells the story—he's ecstatic for the opportunity. And who can blame him? In Buffalo, he's been relegated to fourth-line duty or, worse, has warmed press box seats as a healthy scratch. The 2012 first-round draft pick has scored just three goals—two in one game earlier this year in Anaheim—in 43 games with the club.

The Sabres even tried to send him to the American Hockey League in November, only to have the attempt denied by the NHL due to the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.

It's clear that Grigorenko doesn't presently fit within the Sabres' scheme. On a Ted Nolan-coached club preaching hard work and grinding in the corners, the underachieving Grigorenko has been an odd man out. He knows it, telling reporters both Tuesday and Wednesday that he was waiting for a call from the Russian Hockey Federation for an opportunity to head to Scandinavia for the WJC.

Grigorenko was a goal-scoring machine in two seasons with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scoring 70 goals in 92 games. The opportunity to play a more wide-open game on the international-sized rink with players his own age will give him the chance to regain some goal-scoring confidence he has lost in Buffalo.

Will a strong performance at the WJC translate to improved play in the NHL for Mikhail Grigorenko?

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A strong performance in the tournament could bring momentum back to the First Niagara Center ice and help Grigorenko turn his career in the right direction. He has just one year left in his entry-level contract. How he performs in the next month at the WJC may determine whether he will begin the process of earning a longer-term deal after that or whether he will become a career journeyman—or perhaps return to Russia permanently.

Follow me on Twitter @DEmkeSabres for team news and commentary.

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