Maybe it was because he is Russian, and teams feared he would return to the KHL. Maybe it was the rumors that he was actually 20 and not 18. Or maybe it was because of his underwhelming performance in the QMJHL Playoffs.
Whatever the reason, Mikhail Grigorenko fell in the 2012 NHL Draft. Once considered a lock for the top five, Grigorenko waited until pick No. 12 to hear his name called, when the Buffalo Sabres gladly did him the honor.
Gringorenko's tumble was puzzling. Sure, he's Russian, and the threat of the KHL is always looming, but Grigorenko repeatedly stated that he was committed to playing in North America. And yes, Grigorenko struggled in the QMJHL Playoffs, but doesn't the kid get a break for playing through the postseason with a case of mono? With a little digging, the rumors of Grigorenko's age are also unfair, with no way to prove their accuracy.
Picking apart Grigorenko on the ice is a bit more warranted, though. He is known for having a spotty work ethic, and his lack of grit and willingness to go into the corners isn't an ideal trait. In that sense, Grigorenko has to mature. But in every other aspect of hockey, the Russian-born center is wise beyond his years.
The QMJHL had its hands full with Grigorenko this season. The 6-foot-3-inch playmaker collected 85 points in 59 games this season with the Quebec Remparts, displaying outstanding vision, hands and scoring touch throughout the year.
That's the type of production generally seen from top 10 picks, but the Sabres got their hands on Grigorenko later than expected after an early run that saw eight defensemen drafted in the first 10 selections.
Offensive prospects like Grigorenko don't grow on trees, and teams drafting in the top 10 may kick themselves once he develops. Despite his perceived baggage, Grigorenko presents as much upside as any prospect in this class. It wasn't long ago that debate was stirring over whether Grigorenko could pass Nail Yakupov and be the first player off the board.
Letting upside like Grigorenko's slip away is risky. And as a result of 11 teams taking that risk, the Sabres now have a stud center prospect to go with their 2011 first-round selection, Joel Armia, and their other first-rounder in 2012, Latvian forward Zemgus Girgensons.
Slowly but surely, the Sabres are piecing together a stable of forward prospects that will be tough to contain in a few years' time. Eastern Conference defensemen and goaltenders should be on notice.
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