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Despite only being five games in, the Buffalo Sabres have a huge decision to make tonight in determining the course of their season: Should Mikhail Grigorenko stay? His five game tryout is now over and the Sabres must make a decision about their blue chipper before they hit the ice tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 18 year old has accomplished a lot since June, including a blistering QMJHL point total and a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships, so will he add a full time job in Buffalo to that list?
Lindy Ruff certainly gave Grigorenko a good hard look during last night’s 3-2 loss against the Washington Capitals, playing a season high 17:10 while skating with Marcus Foligno and Jochen Hecht. He responded to the ice time by playing the best game of his young career, creating chances in the offensive zone while maintaining the defensive responsibility necessary in Ruff’s system.
So what will the Sabres brass do?
If they have shown their hand, they’ve done an excellent job concealing it. Grigorenko received his 17-plus minutes yesterday after playing only 6:48 on Friday night. Ruff chalked that up to wanting to get a matchup against Eric Staal so he didn’t burn the club for another hatty, but many assumed he was unhappy with Grigorenko’s play.
If that was truly the case, he would not have given the kid 17 minutes yesterday. However him receiving that time doesn’t necessarily say much more than that because it was Ruff’s last chance to see him play and to make a determination along with Darcy Regier as to whether or not he should stay with the big club.
While Grigorenko’s play has likely allowed him to stay, it almost feels like there’s another angle being worked here that is Grigs has no control over. The Sabres are woeful in the faceoff circle right now, the only thing the team likely misses about Paul Gaustad. If Regier is able to secure a veteran second/third line center that has some faceoff prowess before tomorrow’s game, Grigorenko may be the odd man out.
The important thing here though is that Grigorenko’s play warrants a promotion to full-time. He has not scored yet, but once the uncertainty of making the team is gone, the grip on the stick may get a little looser and he may feel more comfortable making the plays he has been in junior.
So, while it could go either way, it seems like No. 25 is here to stay.