After the Buffalo Sabres watched forward Mikhail Grigorenko fall to them in the NHL Entry Draft, their 12th selection overall was ready to prove his place in the NHL. After an up and down season, Grigorenko finds himself in an interesting position, redeeming himself from a less-than-spectacular rookie season.
"Last year was kind of tough. I didn't have a good summer with the mono. I had the draft and so much traveling with the Russia-Canada Summit Series," Grigorenko said. "I didn't have any routine to stay in training. It was kind of hard."
During the season, Grigorenko spent time in the juniors with the Remparts in the QMJHL where he quickly became the team's top prospect. Once called up to the Sabres for training camp, Grigorenko looked like a young star in the making.
During camp, Grigorenko played for Russia in the World Junior Championships and then made the Sabres roster for opening night in the NHL. Despite making the team, it appeared that the team did not know how to use him, as Grigorenko spent most of the time on the third or fourth lines and saw limited ice time.
During the season, head coach Lindy Ruff was fired by the team and Grigorenko's turbulent season continued.
"The coach changing was kind of hard for me. With Lindy Ruff, I was doing better and better," Grigorenko said. "Once Ron Rolston came into the team, I needed to do it all over again. I needed to earn my ice time again because it was a new coaching staff. I was doing better and better but finally they decided it's better for me to play in the playoffs in junior."
Grigorenko returned for the playoffs in the QMJHL and when the Remparts failed to get by the second round, he was called to the AHL Rochester Americans. Then, after the playoffs were out of the question, the Sabres called Grigorenko back up for the final three games.
"The end of the season was a little weird," Grigorenko said. "I was sent back to juniors and then back to the NHL after I played in Rochester a little bit. I played a lot of games and that's exactly what I needed, to play a lot of games. I think next year will be a little easier. I think next season is going to be good."
Despite the rollercoaster ride of a season, Grigorenko says that he feels he can make a big impact for the Sabres this season.
"Just to make the NHL and to hopefully have my spot on the power play, probably be the first- or second-line center, is my goal," Grigorenko said. "To have 50 points would be great for me. If it's 30, I'm not going to be sad. I don't see myself as an AHL third-liner."
Sabres fans hope Grigorenko is right considering the fact that the team has only one center on the roster who is considered a top two center. But Grigorenko knows nothing will be handed to him.
"It doesn’t mean just because I'm young I will play hockey. I need to be good," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'll have a good opportunity to show the coaches and everybody that I can create a lot of offense. Everything depends on me."
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