The 18-year old Mikhail Grigorenko's jaw-dropping year for the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL has fans of the Sabres thinking big, and has them hoping that he can have an impact in Buffalo throughout 2013.
Therein lies the great conundrum for head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier. With such a lack of time to have him in-house before the start of the regular season on Sunday, a decision will have to be made without all the information they had even when Tyler Myers made the team outright in his rookie season.
"It really is the toughest question to answer because you'd love to see him in preseason games," Ruff said Wednesday. "You'd love to see him against somebody else's competition. It's a great way to see where a guy's at. Then along the way there's the physical part of it, the mental, the grind of the schedule -- there's everything inside of that. But when you're evaluating those young players against an opposition that's coming after you, you get to see a guy under the gun. We don't have that luxury so we're trying to do it in these inter-squad games."
The NHL lockout ended only 10 days ago, and the Sabres have only skated together for about a week. There are no preseason games and unlike most years Buffalo will have only a five-game window, if they so choose, to see Grigorenko in game action without burning a year of his entry-level contract.
"Just based on pure talent, he's an NHL caliber talent. There's no doubt about that," said goaltender Ryan Miller. "There is a little bit more that goes in to playing hockey at this level, and we're seeing little bits and pieces. I thought he's hung pretty well, I'd like to see him in some exhibition, but it's going to come down to what the coaches and Darcy think. Is he ready mentally, is he ready to be here, is he capable of matching up against those top-line centers? There's a lot of things that go in to that."
One man that has gotten to know Grigorenko quite well over the past week has been forward Ville Leino, who has skated on a line with him over the course of the past week.
Grigorenko's presence means Leino can get situated at wing, where he's said that he's most comfortable. The former free-agent pickup says the 18-year old brings a lot of skill to the table.
"Well it's been fun. He makes a lot of plays. He's good with the puck, real poised, sees the ice well," Leino remarked. "I mean, it's fun to play with a guy who thinks of hockey the same way as me."
But is Grigorenko ready?
"Too hard to say. It's scrimmage and we're playing against each other. It will be a step higher when you play against players who are really trying to hurt you and play hard. It's a little different, mistakes count there too," Leino said. "Hopefully, he seems pretty ready. But, tough call."
The first decision the Sabres will have to make will rest on the shoulders of Ruff and Regier, regarding if Grigorenko will get that very five-game tryout.
"I just know if we feel he's ready to help us win, we'll use those games," the head coach replied. "We'll make that decision at the end of this week and if he's ready -- if we feel he's ready -- that he can help us win hockey games, he'll in all likelihood be there."
The Sabres start off their season, with or without Grigorenko, Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers at First Niagara Center.