BUFFALO – Mikhail Grigorenko is staying put. No more shuttling between the NHL and junior. The Sabres have already given the slick Russian center a roster spot for next season, general manager Darcy Regier said last week.
What does that mean to the 19-year-old?
“I didn’t think about it at all,” Grigorenko said Wednesday inside the First Niagara Center following the first session of the team’s summer development camp. “I don’t think it changes anything.”
Of course, having a place on the team and playing are two different things. Grigorenko certainly learned that from his experiences last season.
The 12th overall pick in 2012 played sparingly most of his rookie year, appearing in only 25 games and skating less than 10 minutes in 11 of them. He was a healthy scratch five times. In March, long after the Sabres had burned a year of his entry-level contract, the Sabres sent him back to the Quebec Remparts, a curious move that raised eyebrows. They recalled him a month later.
The Sabres usually treat their top prospects delicately. But they never really handled Grigorenko properly.
It was an odd season, no doubt.
Grigorenko dominated the QMJHL and impressed at the world junior championship. But his talents and scoring prowess rarely materialized in the NHL. He scored only one goal and five points.
“I knew that it’s going to be hard,” Grigorenko said about the NHL. “I didn’t know how hard it would be. But I think it was pretty much what I expected. I was expecting a little more points and goals from me. But it doesn’t always go like you want. But I think it was a real good experience for me, and I think next year it’s going to be really good.”
As much as Grigorenko enjoyed last season, the marathon campaign – he played about 90 games in three leagues – wore him out. Finally, his nine-month season ended in early May with two AHL playoff games in Rochester.
When it was over, Grigorenko took about three weeks off and went to the Bahamas with his girlfriend. He then spent a couple weeks working out in Quebec before returning to Buffalo on June 5 to train. Since he’s not a fan of flying, he’s staying here the rest of the summer.
Remember, Grigorenko was recovering from mono a year ago and had gotten out of shape.
Now, with a regular training camp and slate of exhibitions games in September – the NHL lockout canceled all of that last year – Grigorenko’s confident he’ll be better prepared for next season.
He’s going full tilt this summer. Right now, he said he’s working on “getting stronger and getting more powerful.”
“I’ve been skating a lot with the skating coach,” Grigorenko said. “Just everything, I was running a lot on the treadmill. We did a lot of core stuff for upper body and lower body.”
Grigorenko’s clearly excited to have a familiar face beside him. Nikita Zadorov, a Russian defenseman the Sabres just selected 16th overall at the NHL Entry Draft, recently arrived in town and is participating in camp.
The two roomed together at the world juniors and have been hanging out in Buffalo.
“I was actually hoping he would be drafted by Buffalo,” Grigorenko said. “When Buffalo didn’t pick him at the eighth spot, I thought somebody else would pick him, so I was really excited for the 16th pick.”
Grigorenko said Zadorov “loves to score and hit.”
“He’s really fun to watch,” he said.