There was no doubt that Mikhail Grigorenko was getting frustrated and with good reason.
The 19-year old has been spending more time in the press box than on the ice for games. Nine games into Ted Nolan’s tenure as interim coach, Grigorenko has sat in six of them, including Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers at First Niagara Center.
But there is relief in sight, and it’s in the form of a flight to Russia.
The Buffalo Sabres agreed to loan Grigorenko to the Russian Federation for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships which begin Dec. 26 in Sweden.
“I can’t improve sitting in the press box. I need to play,” Griogrenko said. “Everybody understands this. It’s a really good opportunity because it’s a really good level there. Not as good as NHL but pretty close.”
Nolan echoed the sentiment that the important thing is for Grigorenko to get playing time and experience in order to develop.
“If history teaches us anything it’s that a player’s got to play,” Nolan said. “I don’t know too many people who develop without playing. He has to play and this will give him a good opportunity to do so.”
Grigorenko has two goals and an assist in 18 games this season.
His three-year entry-level contract kicked in last year after he played 25 games with the Sabres. Since he is 19, he still is eligible to return to his junior team in Quebec and returning him there after the World Juniors is still a possibility.
But that’s a few weeks down the road. Right now, Grigorenko is excited for the chance to play.
“I think it’s going to be great for me because I’m not getting enough ice time so I’m a little frustrated,” he said. “But going there, I’ll play a lot. It’s a really good level there. All the best junior players. I’m going to play against players my age, play a lot and play big minutes. It’s going to be a really good experience.”
It’s something he will get to experience with Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov as the defenseman, who was returned to his junior team the London Knights last month, will also be on the Russian team. The two have a flight together Sunday out of Toronto.
“I’m really excited I can’t wait to go there and meet all my friends and start preparation for World Juniors,” Grigorenko said. “It’s a big tournament for us. We have all the chances to win the gold and hopefully I’ll get to bring my best game there. “
Brayden McNabb took in the game from the press box Thursday night, one day after lighting it up on a brief assignment in Rochester.
McNabb went down to the Amerks for one day, scoring a goal with two assists, in the team’s 6-2 win over the Utica Comets.
“It doesn’t surprise me because he went down with such a great attitude,” Nolan said. “Attitude is everything. It’s like a flat tire. If you don’t change it, you ain’t going nowhere. He had a real good attitude going down. He knows he’s got a little ways to go before being a full-time NHL player. He went down and made us look bad for sending him down because he played real well. It’s good for him.”
McNabb understand the assignment and enjoyed his one-game stint back in Blue Cross Arena.
“They wanted me to go out there and get a game in,” McNabb said. “It was good to get out there and see those guys again. I felt pretty good. It’s a little bit slower paced compared to here so it’s a little bit of an adjustment that way. Hopefully I can get another chance here and prove I can play here.”
McNabb has played in three games with the Sabres since being recalled from Rochester on Nov. 20. He started the season with the Amerks where he led all defensemen with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists).
“It’s just waiting for my opportunity,” McNabb said. “I’ve got to work hard and do whatever I can to get in the lineup and when that time comes, I’m going to take advantage of it and play my best.”
This trip to Buffalo is the last time the Rangers will have to pack their bags for a while.
After starting the season on a nine-game road trip due to renovations to Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were compensated with a long holiday homestand. They will play their next nine games at home, not traveling again until Dec. 27 when they play at the Washington Capitals.
Cody McCormick returned to the lineup for Buffalo after missing four games with an upper-body injury. To make room, Alexander Sulzer was placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.
Scratched along with Grigorenko and McNabb was Brian Flynn while Jamie McBain returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in four straight games.
Scratched for the Rangers were Derek Dorsett and Justin Falk.