When Mikhail Grigorenko was the first Russian player the Buffalo Sabres drafted since Vyacheslav Buravchikov in the 5th round of the 2005 Entry Draft, the hype machine was started on whether Grigorenko was the answer to all of the Sabres' questions. That hype machine has been consistently primed for the start of the season and has come to a head with just a few days left before the season starts.
The 18 year old has passed the early sight tests in his limited debuts with the team. At Development Camp back in July, Grigorenko awed fans with his slick hands and smooth skating style. Those same skills have had Sabres fans debating on whether the team should use his first year of his entry level contract in this 48 game shortened season.
Grigorenko has had an impressive career in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts in terms of individual statistics. In 91 games played, Grigorenko has 69 goals and 66 assists. He averages almost 1.5 points/game in his junior career. The Remparts were bounced in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs last year and they currently sit third in their division. The Remparts are probably not going to challenge for the QMJHL's spot in the Memorial Cup. That lends to ask the question of whether there is anything else that Grigorenko can do in juniors.
Eric Schmitz from 3rd Man In has some good questions that should be considered when taking a look at this situation. Grigorenko only has three years on his entry level contract that has a salary cap hit of $1.775 million. If his skill translates as it is expected to, then his second contract is going to be a hefty contract, with a cap hit somewhere between $4-5 million. His second contract would be coming up before the 2015-16 season. Currently, the Sabres only have three players signed through then and we can't project what the salary cap is going to be that far out so we do not know what kind of impact that second contract will have on the cap.
The second question to ask is what is the breaking point of keeping Grigorenko in Buffalo this season. How many points does Grigorenko have to have to justify keeping him here? Will the Sabres early record play into the decision? If Grigorenko is not playing on the top two lines and stuck on the third line, will that play a role as well? Early lines have Grigorenko playing between Steve Ott and Ville Leino, which might work out better for Leino. During the first day of camp, Ott was a vocal leader on that line, making sure each player was in the right spot.
Grigorenko feels ready at this point. On Sunday, the first day of training camp, he was the most popular player in the locker room with the media. He seemed to be the one man left out though, with his locker consisting of just a chair at the end of the room. That didn't matter for Grigorenko though, who was just happy to have the shot to make the team.
The debate on Grigorenko is going to be a short one. The Sabres will play their fifth game of the season on January 27th, a scant 11 days from now. After the 5th game, the Sabres have to make the decision on whether to keep Grigorenko in the lineup or send him back. From there, we'll know whether the new era is about to begin.