Mikhail Grigorenko skated sparingly on the fourth line Friday. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Ruff regrets playing top prospect Grigorenko so little

AMHERST – Lindy Ruff couldn’t hide his disgust Saturday morning inside the Northtown Center.

The Buffalo Sabres coach sighed before acknowledging the obvious.

“It’s like burning a game,” Ruff said about skating 18-year-old rookie Mikhail Grigorenko a career-low 6:48 in Friday’s 3-1 loss to Carolina.

The Russian center can play five times before the first-year of his entry level contract kicks in. Each appearance is precious in the Sabres’ evaluation.

The Sabres wasted Grigorenko’s fourth game, playing him sparingly mostly beside tough guy John Scott and Nathan Gerbe on the fourth line.

“I like where this kid is going,” Ruff said. “I like where his game has been. Even his early shifts I thought were good shifts. They had the makings of doing something good.”

Grigorenko fed a pinching Andrej Sekera a perfect saucer pass early in the contest.

But with Ruff mostly matching up Jochen Hecht’s line against Hurricanes star Eric Staal, Grigorenko played zero shifts in the third period and just two of his seven after the opening 20 minutes.

“Then I got to a point he hadn’t played for so long I didn’t think it was fair to throw him in a tough situation,” Ruff said. “Your legs aren’t going. I burned up a game really is what I did.”

So what do the Sabres do now?

Grigorenko, who centered Steve Ott and Drew Stafford on Saturday, will hit his limit if he plays this afternoon in Washington.

Ruff said if winger Thomas Vanek (muscle strain) can play, then Grigorenko could possibly sit.

Even watching games and practicing with the Sabres is probably a better option than returning the first-round pick to the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.

The Sabres host Toronto on Tuesday.

Grigorenko has zero points and is a minus-1. He played 11 to 13 minutes in his first three appearances.

“He’s handling it really well for 18 years old,” Ott said. “I can only imagine the feeling and the mindset he’s going through.”

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