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Buffalo Sabres Prospect Tracker: World Junior Medal Round; The Grigorenko Decision

Jake Roth – US PRESSWIRE

The 2013 World Junior Championships have transitioned into the Medal Round, with the United States avenging their round robin loss to Canada 5-1 early this morning to advance to the gold medal game, and Sweden defeated their Russian hosts 3-2 in a shootout to find their way into the gold medal game. Canada and Russia will meet in the bronze medal game.

In both cases, the Buffalo Sabres have had their prospects make significant contributions to get their respective teams to where they are.

United States head coach Phil Housley cannot be disappointed with his choice to name University of Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe captain of his squad. McCabe has been one of the United States’ best players throughout the tournament, and if it weren’t for the sheer domination of opposing defenders and netminders by Johnny Gaudreau (CAL) the past few games, he may have a claim as the United States’ MVP.

McCabe has been solid all tournament, but he played his best game in the USA’s biggest contest of the tournament thus far, posting two goals and an assist on a Gaudreau tally to bring his point total up to six in six games. While being overshadowed by the bigger names on the United States squad like Seth Jones (2013 draft eligible) and Jacob Trouba (WIN), McCabe has lived up to the “C” Housley placed on his jersey.

In the other semifinal game, Mikhail Grigorenko has continued his strong play for the Russians, scoring his second goal in as many games, with this one tying the game with the Swedes to take the game in overtime. While most of the attention has been on Nail Yakupov, Edmonton’s first overall choice in last year’s draft, Grigorenko has led many to question how he could have fallen to 12th overall to the Sabres.

Grigorenko has not scored at the rate he has been with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL during the tournament, but he has notched six points in six games to this point and will get a chance to extend that against Canada in the bronze medal game Saturday.

Russian netminder Andrey Makarov did not play their last two games, sitting in favor of Andrei Vasilevski (TB) for the medal round games.

The United States and Sweden meet in the gold medal game on early Saturday at 8am, with Canada and Russia facing off in the bronze medal game at 4am.

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With the World Juniors captivating all NHL-starved hockey fans, and as the NHL and NHLPA seem to be creeping, even if slowly, toward a deal, Sabres fans have began to stir wondering about the immediate future of their new prized toy Mikhail Grigorenko.

As this blog as discussed many-a-time during the lockout, Grigorenko has been a beast in the QMJHL, entering the World Juniors with 50 points in 30 games, which is currently 13 points off the leader Josh Currie (undrafted) who has played seven more games due to Grigorenko’s World Junior necessitated absence from Quebec.

So what will Grigorenko’s fate be if the NHL and NHLPA actually shake hands on a deal?

As I briefly discussed in my line combination prognostication yesterday, Grigorenko’s junior team has reportedly been given a guarantee that he will be available to them for the remainder of the season whether an NHL season is played or not.

At the beginning of every NHL season, junior-eligible players are able to participate in their NHL team’s training camp and play up to nine games before their NHL contract starts tolling and their junior eligibility is lost. Given the lockout this year, the NHL and the CHL (which also includes the WHL and OHL) came to an agreement that would allow NHL teams access to junior players they identified prior to the lockout once the lockout ended. The Sabres identified Grigorenko and, according to that agreement, have the right to give him his nine game tryout after training camp if the lockout is lifted.

This guarantee is another thing entirely, but it stands to reason that it is not entirely enforceable. It was reported mid-December, and if you remember what was going on in the CBA talks then, it doesn’t take much thought to see why Darcy Regier, or anyone in the Sabres front office, would feel comfortable to make such a guarantee. The talks were probably at their sourest point then and the likelihood of an NHL season was the lowest it had been.

Things are measurably different now in a number of ways.

First, the CBA actually looks like it will get done, and relatively soon. For the first time there is widespread, albeit cautious, optimism radiating through the Twitterverse that a deal will be struck and a season will be played.

Second, Grigorenko’s play at the World Juniors has turned more than a few heads. While the focus has been on how well Yakupov has not been playing, many have quietly acknowledged that Grigorenko has been Russia’s best player in the tournament. The quiet part is likely equal parts Yakupov’s struggles – and media scrutiny – and the scrutiny Grigorenko received last year pre-draft that helped drop him in the Sabres’ lap to begin with.

But needless to say that Grigorenko has played like one of the best players in the tournament, especially against the better competition and in clutch times.

The Sabres have not made any announcements on their plans for Grigorenko for a shortened season, and will not until the lockout is lifted, but it will be interesting to see what Darcy and Lindy Ruff decide to do given their struggles at the pivot in recent years.