There are several fascinating points to a six-day training camp and a 48-game NHL season. But it was pretty clear from listening to Lindy Ruff on Wednesday afternoon that the Buffalo Sabres’ coach is most interested in the same question so many fans have.
How good will Mikhail Grigorenko be when his camp tryout opens Sunday?
“I think everyone is intrigued,” Ruff said of his team’s No. 1 draft pick during a pre-camp news conference in First Niagara Center. “He’s had an elite year at junior. He’s got very good hands, is a very good playmaker. Now you take that to a level where you’re going to play against even stronger competition, bigger bodies, guys that are heavier on the puck, that compete at a stronger level.”
Grigorenko, the 18-year-old who is tearing up the Quebec League and starred for Russia in the World Junior Championships, could clearly fill a need for the Sabres at center. But he won’t have much time to make an impression. Junior players normally get a nine-game tryout before having to either stay in the NHL or go back so their entry-level contract doesn’t kick in.
Canadian television network TSN reported Wednesday that junior players will be limited to five games before a decision is made due to the shortened season. That’s not much time for Grigorenko to make an impression, assuming he makes the team out of camp. The Sabres’ sessions are expected to start Sunday after NHL players ratify the new collective bargaining agreement.
“I think he’ll be able to make plays,” Ruff said. “I’m intrigued to see what he can do against and with top NHL players.”
Ruff said he might try Grigorenko between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville for a practice or two but not likely in games. He said Vanek enjoyed playing with Cody Hodgson last year, and that will likely be Hodgson’s spot.
Tyler Ennis will center Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford in a reprise of the line that was one of the hottest in the NHL at the end of last season. Newcomer Steve Ott will take draws but play mostly wing. Ruff said Matt Ellis and Ville Leino could get time at center and acknowledged there would be a comfort level if the Sabres re-signed veteran Jochen Hecht.
More than anything else, Ruff was happy to be talking about hockey and said he was convinced there was no way players and owners would force a logjam that would cancel the season.
“I just thought it would be utter craziness if we didn’t [play], that we couldn’t come to some type of agreement,” Ruff said.
In other nuggets from Ruff:
• He said he’d like to try to have an evening scrimmage next week between the Sabres and Rochester Americans to help his players move more quickly into game shape.
• He said he figures Ryan Miller will start roughly 36-38 of the 48 games on the schedule, with Jhonas Enroth taking the rest.
• He has spoken to Jordan Leopold, the Sabres’ player representative, and former Buffalo enforcer Andrew Peters about precamp drills some players should be working on during sessions at the Northtown Center at Amherst.
“We’re trying to maybe get a couple [more] days of camp in by maybe giving Andrew some idea for drills to make the practice on the tougher side,” Ruff said.
The tempo was noticeably higher at the sessions Wednesday, featuring some two-on-two battle drills and cross-ice scrimmaging. John Scott, the 6-foot-8, 270-pounder the Sabres signed as a free agent on July 1, made his first appearance with his new club since the lockout ended at Wednesday’s session.
Peters tweeted later Wednesday that Enroth and new defenseman Adam Pardy should be on the ice for today’s session, which begins at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
Peters also retweeted a text from Miller that said the Sabres’ No. 1 man hopes to be on the ice Friday if flight schedules mesh and his equipment isn’t delayed in transit.