Mikhail Grigorenko has four goals this season. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko seizing AHL opportunity with Amerks

BUFFALO – Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko needed some time to adjust. Getting demoted to the AHL wasn’t easy. The 20-year-center impressed during the NHL training camp, igniting speculation he could earn a roster spot.

But the rebuilding Sabres wanted the slick Russian to develop in Rochester, where he could receive loads of ice time, so they assigned him to the Americans on Oct. 6.

“It was probably tough a few days,” Grigorenko said Wednesday about acclimating to the AHL again. “It’s a good thing that I had time before the first game.”

Grigorenko scored in the season opener four days later, an early sign he was ready for the AHL. The prospect has scored in every other game since then.

In Wednesday’s 3-2 win against the Hamilton Bulldogs inside the First Niagara Center, Grigorenko scored the Amerks’ first goal and assisted on linemate Joel Armia’s tying score.

Grigorenko, the No. 12 pick in 2012, already has four goals and six points in seven games. Perhaps more importantly, the fast start has given Grigorenko, who struggled during his first two professional seasons, a wealth of confidence.

“It’s really good for me,” Grigorenko said about the AHL. “Obviously, I want to play in the NHL. It doesn’t matter where, it could be fourth line or whatever, it’s the NHL. AHL, it’s really good for me that coaches trust me. I play on power play and top-scoring lines. That builds some confidence.”

Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy traces Grigorenko’s start to his maturity. In July, Grigorenko owned up for his past NHL struggles, saying, “It was probably no one’s fault but mine.”

Remember, the Sabres’ new regime refused to give Grigorenko a roster spot like former general manager Darcy Regier did for two years.

“He had a lot thrown on him as a young kid,” Cassidy said. “I would think anybody would have a hard time handling that. Plus you put the pressure on him of being a first-round pick. So I think he’s a lot more comfortable in his skin now. He’s making a lot of strides. He’s working to round out his game.

“He wants to be a big-time player at this level, and he knows he’s got to put the work in to do that. So far, he’s been really good for us.”

The Sabres had 10 goals in 10 games entering Thursday’s contest. They desperately need scoring. Grigorenko could be a viable option. But he said he’s not thinking about a recall.

“I don’t really think about other stuff going on with management,” he said.

Cassidy believes Grigorenko and Armia, the No. 16 pick in 2011, must spend more time in the minors.

“There’s a lot of players in the American League that can play in the National League,” he said. “But are they ready to be consistent contributors in the National League? I would be the first to tell Mikhail and maybe Joel Armia both, you’re not ready maybe right now to be a consistent contributor at that level. We’re not going to send you there, or (general manager) Tim (Murray) doesn’t want you there until you’re ready to do that. It doesn’t do any good for them to come up here and spin their tires.”

Expect a decision on rookie Sam Reinhart’s future soon, possibly as soon as today. The Sabres center played his ninth game Thursday, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. His contract kicks in if he makes a 10th appearance.

Murray and Sabres coach Ted Nolan discussed the 18-year-old’s future Thursday morning and planned to talk again following the game.

“I’m quite sure we batted around every idea there was for the situation,” Nolan said.

Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in June, has zero goals and one point. Nolan has been skating him limited minutes on the fourth line. Reinhart played a game-low seven minutes, 45 seconds Thursday.

Nolan wouldn’t say when the Sabres will make a decision. He’s glad one’s coming, though.

“I’m quite sure Sam’s sitting down every night (thinking), ‘Am I going to stay the whole year. Is it game-to-game?’” Nolan said. “The one thing I’ve tried to instill in this group is it is day-to-day with all of us.”

Reinhart said he hasn’t been worrying about his future.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing to get into the guessing game,” he said.

Nolan, a former junior coach, knows going back to the Western Hockey League could help Reinhart.

“I’ve never seen too many players ruined by sending them back,” Nolan said.

The Sabres made one lineup change, inserting defenseman Tyson Strachan for the struggling Andrej Meszaros, who’s a minus-10. Strachan played only his second game this season.

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