He’s been compared to Evgeni Malkin. Former NHL GM Craig Button ranked him as the 20th best player in the NHL Draft. Super-talent Mikhail Grigorenko is sliding down draft boards. Could he slide to 12? Would the Sabres pull the trigger?
When it comes to this draft there are plenty of variables, but perhaps none bigger than where Mikhail Grigorenko gets taken. You’ll find some scouts comparing him to Evgeni Malkin, while others will shy away because of his inconsistency.
As the Sabres seek elite players in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft there’s one player who is considered to be a potential number one, or could fall down the board Aaron-Rodgers-style.. It all depends who you ask about Mikhail Grigorenko.
Jer: So let’s start with Griggy’s positives. What is it about him as a player a scout would love?
Kris: His vision, his creativity, his playmaking skills. He’s got good eyes for the game. He’s not the best skater...but it’s his playmaking skills. He’s right up there with those top notch guys on sheer talent. The Malkin comparison is a good one - on talent alone. He makes good plays, he knows where his teammates are. He scores and sets up teammates very well.
Jer: And the concerns?
Kris: They don’t love guys that go 50-75%. He is missing the complete-ness. Leadership...character...he doesn’t kill penalties. All the guys at the top of the draft are good skaters, have a good mind for the game. It’s the other stuff. Alex Galchenyuk doesn’t take a shift or a night off. With Grigorenko, you’ll see that. A pick that high is a tremendous asset. But look at any business...effort and consistency are going to trump a lot of other things. Also worth mentioning because scouts will - he's Russian.
Jer: Ok, we touched on that earlier this year, and deduced that the Russian players that come to North America for Juniors...aren’t really too much of a flight risk. So are you saying that Grigorenko’s “Russian Risk Factor” is more of one that falls into the stereotype that they’re just not motivated to be team players?
Kris: Yes. I’d compare him...to the Radulov situation a bit. He was drafted pretty high in the KHL Draft so there's a team over there with his rights. While we’re not concerned about Nail Yakupov and some of the others...it might matter with Grigorenko. It could depend greatly on the locker room that he goes to. Are the Sabres the kind of team that can really handle him? Are the Sabres the right type of organization to take on a guy that is a bit of a risk? He might be a bit more high maintenance.
Jer: How so?
Kris: You’d need leadership...and quite honestly you might not want to many other Russian players. That’s just one way to look at it. You are going to want to force him to be a part of the team. Sometimes you can have groups of players of any nationality that can form cliques to the detriment of the entire room. He plays for Patrick Roy right now in Quebec and Roy has good things to say about him so who really knows? This is a tough call. Some scouts see major red flags.
Jer: When did those first crop up? After all, this is a player...who two months ago, was considered 2nd overall. Maybe 1-A? What happened?
Kris: February and March he was less consistent. That’s the opposite direction that you want your players to go. The playoffs came and his compete wasn’t strong enough. He produced points but overall, was ineffective. He’s 6’2, 200 lbs and he was not winning enough battles. It was at THAT point...that he was diagnosed with mono. The symptoms started in that Halifax series. So he’s still out of commission right now. He’ll miss the combine at the end of the month. He may interview but it’s unlikely that he’ll work out.
Jer: Craig Button has him down to 20th on his board. Too drastic?
Kris: I think so. He’s a top ten talent in the draft. He’s right there and you’d have to consider him at the 12 spot where the Sabres select with that first pick. It will require a lot of homework.
Jer: So...I’ll run the scenario by you: The Sabres attempt to trade up throughout the entire first 11 picks, but are unsuccessful (I’m putting that scenario in because we both want that to happen and think it will). The 12th pick comes up....and Mikhail Grigorenko has somehow slipped to this point. Should they pull the trigger?
Kris: Yes. The Sabres need a big center. I don’t see how it’s reasonable to pass up on his talent at 12. We have identified a major drop-off after the top 5-6 players...and these concerns could feasibly get this top 5-6 player down to 12? Yes. I gamble. I do. The Sabres took Zack Kassian at 13 just a couple years go. This is 12. An entirely different ballpark of talent. You could not pass this up. He’s done everything right to show that he wants an NHL career. He came over. Produced. You just might have to work with him and make sure that you’re going to be that team that is his perfect home. At 12...geez...yes. That said, if he starts slipping...someone is trading up and taking him. He won’t make it to 12.
Jer: Is that because the Sabres will be that team? To move up for him if he slides?
Kris: No. I think you only take him if he falls. You’d have to be 100% confident and sold. This is a big bet. There are other opportunities...other players that are good that you might have a better read on and that have the intangibles that you would want.
The Sabres have two scouts in the QMJHL. They’ll have good intel on him. They’ll know what they want to do with the kid. Then again...they don’t draft Russians, remember?