With what seems like the hard deadline for all NHL teams to improve their teams looming in a few weeks, it seems the Buffalo Sabres have decided to suspend their search for a number one center for the moment.
As it stands, the Sabres will enter the season with Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Cody McCormick and likely a tandem of Steve Ott and Ville Leino at center.
Beyond Ennis and Hodgson, none of these names inspire any hope for a number one center, and Ennis and Hodgson are a couple years away from cementing that position.
So what are the Sabres’ options?
There’s really only one. Mikhail Grigorenko.
But that’s not a bad option at all.
Grigorenko was the third-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, and the first rated North American center in this year’s NHL Draft.
His drop to number 12 in the draft was due to the knock on his hustle and drive, as well as a lingering question about his true age, but the Sabres saw past all that.
Instead of the lazy, overaged player, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier saw him as the next potential Evgeni Malkin. Grigorenko has also been compared to the likes of former great Jean Beliveau.
That’s not a bad comparison for Sabres fans.
So as the days pass and the Sabres have not added a tried and true number one center, Grigorenko’s chances of making the team out of training camp look better and better.
So what would the lineup look like with Grigorenko in it?
There is a general assumption that Ennis would remain with his end-of-the-year linemates Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford. Hodgson will likely stick with Thomas Vanek, who should be happily reunited with Jason Pominville, who together made Luke Adam look like Sidney Crosby at the beginning of last season.
So that likely leaves Grigorenko centering hybrid center-wing Steve Ott and Ville Leino. Ott’s faceoff abilities takes some defensive zone responsibilities off of Grigorenko, which is the hardest part of coach Lindy Ruff’s system to pick up. Leino’s puck control abilities will allow Grigorenko to concentrate on his playmaking abilities in the offensive zone, which will in turn increase Leino’s output.
All of a sudden, the Sabres would have three dangerous lines, even if Grigorenko only contributes 30 – 40 points.
All-in-all, the Sabres look like their prized prospect will be on the team come (hopefully) October.