The Buffalo Sabres pulled off a couple surprises Friday in the first round of the NHL Draft, landing a highly touted center who dropped down the board and then trading up nine picks to take a second center.
With the 12th overall pick, the Sabres took Mikhail Grigorenko who was ranked in the top 10 on most draft boards, with Central Scouting having him at No. 3 overall. The 18-year-old Russian had 40 goals and 45 assists in 59 games in 2011-12 with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect was considered something of a question mark due to the looming threat that he'd depart for Russia's KHL – a claim he's repeatedly denied. The Sabres had indicated earlier this week that Russian players were a risky proposition due in part to the KHL, but Buffalo was evidently won over by his skill level and the factt hat he could contend for an NHL roster spot in 2012-13.
"Eleven teams didn't draft me, so too bad for them. I'm No. 1 pick for Buffalo Sabres," he said. "Buffalo Sabres is my team, and I can't wait to go on the ice to wear this jersey and be a part of this."
The Sabres then moved up from No. 21 to No. 14 to draft Zemgus Girgensons. The Latvian national had 45 goals and 59 assists in 100 games with Duguque of the USHL. The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder is the first Latvian chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft. He's committed to the University of Vermont for 2012-13 but sounded Friday as if he might be willing to give the pros a shot.
"People have said next year I can play in the NHL. People have said it will take me five years," he said. "We’re going to see what happens next year, and we’ll go from there. I feel like I can play next year. I’m physically ready."
To move up, the Sabres sent picks No. 21 and 42 to the Calgary Flames.
Sabres brass predicted that the first round would be defenseman-heavy, and they proved correct. Nine of the first 10 players drafted and 14 of 30 players overall in the first round were blueliners.
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