BUFFALO – Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko knows watching NHL games as a spare forward is hurting his development.
“I can’t be sitting in the press box. I need to play,” Grigorenko said Thursday morning inside the First Niagara Center. “Everybody understands this.”
Luckily, the Sabres’ new regime understands how vital ice time is to Grigorenko’s maturation, so the team’s letting the 19-year-old center play for Russian at the upcoming world junior championship in Sweden.
“I think it’s going to be great for me because I’m not getting enough ice time,” said Grigorenko, a healthy scratch the last three games and six of the last nine. “So I’m frustrated.”
Grigorenko leaves Sunday on the same flight from Toronto with his close friend Nikita Zadorov, another Sabres prospect on the Russian roster.
“It’s a really good opportunity because it’s a really good level there,” said an excited Grigorenko, who sat out Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers. “(It’s) probably not as good as he NHL, but I would say it’s close. So it’s going to be really good for me.”
The Sabres have been searching for a place for Grigorenko to play since the NHL rejected his conditioning assignment to the AHL on Nov. 20.
“If history teaches us anything, it’s players have to play,” interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “I’ve never seen too many people develop without playing. He has to play, and this way we give him a great opportunity to do so.”
Grigorenko has four goals and 11 points in 13 world junior games over the past two years.
“I’ll play a lot, big minutes,” Grigorenko said. “So it’s going to be a really good experience for me.”
He added: “I’m really excited. I can’t wait to go there and meet all my friends and start preparation for the world juniors. It’s a big tournament for us. We have all the chances to win the gold.”
But where will Grigorenko, the 12th overall pick in 2012, go after the tournament ends in early January? It seems unlikely the Sabres will suddenly start playing him.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s trade deadline is Jan. 7. Teams can add more imports after that. Grigorenko’s old team, the Quebec Remparts, already has two, the league limit. Perhaps the Sabres will consider sending him there when he returns.
Attitude, Nolan said, “is everything.”
“It’s like a flat tire,” he said, “if you don’t change it, you ain’t going nowhere.”
Sabres defenseman Brayden McNabb’s great attitude helped the 22-year-old compile one goal and three points in the Americans’ 6-1 win against the Utica Comets on Wednesday, Nolan said.
It was just a one-day assignment to get McNabb some work.
“He’s knows that he’s got a little ways to go before becoming a full-time NHL player,” Nolan said. “He went down and made us look bad for sending us down because he played so well.”
McNabb added: “I felt pretty good. It’s a little bit slower pace compared to here. So it’s a little bit of adjustment that way.”
Still, McNabb sat his third straight game Thursday.
Nolan had said McNabb would only sit once, but the Sabres fielded the same lineup Saturday following their 3-2 overtime win against Toronto.
Meanwhile, with defenseman Alexander Sulzer injured (undisclosed), Jamie McBain, a healthy scratch the last four games, returned.
“It’s an unfortunate situation that happened with him because I’m trying to learn everybody here, I’m trying to get (Tyler) Myers’ game going, (Christian) Ehrhoff’s game going,” Nolan said about McBain sitting. “He just kind of got caught up into the mix. So it was unfair to sit him out for any other reason. But we had to find out about other people.”
The Sabres placed Sulzer on injured reserve to create room for forward Cody McCormick, who returned from a four-game absence. Brian Flynn was scratched.