If the Buffalo Sabres have a plan for 2012 first-rounder Mikhail Grigorenko, they're doing a great job disguising it.
After Grigorenko started last season with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts - because of the lockout - the Sabres elected to bring him up to the NHL team once the league got going again. And even though he wasn't getting very much opportunity or ice time, they kept him past the nine-game mark that burned a year off his entry-level contract. In fact, they kept him on board until the end of their dreadful season, despite the fact he averaged little more than 10 minutes of ice per game, and got less than that 11 times. He was also a healthy scratch from time to time. Grigorenko finished with one goal and five points in 25 games and was returned to Quebec for the playoffs.
This season has so far been much of the same, with Grigorenko being made a healthy scratch a few times and averaging 11:18 of ice per game. That's two minutes less than fellow 2012 draftee Zemgus Girgensons. Grigorenko has three points in 15 games this season.
Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan have talked about the need to develop players and the fact the Sabres had too many teenagers on the pro roster when they arrived. So, Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson were sent to AHL rochester yesterday and Nikita Zadorov was returned to London of the OHL. The problem with Grigorenko is that, since he's a teenager who was drafted out of the CHL, he can't be demoted to the AHL - he has to go back to major junior. It's a ridiculous and arbitrary rule, but it's one the Sabres tried to get around for a couple weeks when they assigned Grigorenko to the AHL for a conditioning stint on Tuesday. The NHL saw right through the ploy and denied the transaction, so Grigorenko was back at Sabres practice Wednesday morning.
Mikhail Grigorenko's conditioning assignment was ruled against by the NHL and the team respects the League’s decision. #Sabres
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 20, 2013
The next logical step in this illogical way to handle a teenaged prospect would be to return him to junior. But even that's not quite so simple. The Remparts already have the maximum two import players allowed in that league and they'd only be able to trade one of them. The thing is, the team likes both Fabrice Herzog and Nick Sorensen very much - they are third and fourth in team scoring. So some steps would still need to be taken to even get Grigorenko playing in major junior again, such as the Remparts trading him away.
What happens next here is anyone's guess. The new management in Buffalo is putting its own stamp on the team already and taking a more long-term view at player development, which is always the way to go. Detroit has made two-plus decades of success with that approach. It's pretty clear Grigorenko has a lot to improve on before he is NHL-ready. He shouldn't have ever been brought up to the NHL last season - and at least should not have stayed past nine games if he wasn't being given a chance to play.
What the heck have the Sabres been trying to accomplish with the way they've handled Grigorenko?
What the #Sabres are doing to Grigorenko is remarkable. As if they're conducting an experiment on what it takes to push a Russian out to KHL
— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) November 20, 2013