WASHINGTON — Mikhail Grigorenko really had only one option for his immediate future. After two days of discussions, the Sabres’ prospect is taking it.
The center decided late Sunday night he will accept Buffalo’s decision to return him to junior hockey. Grigorenko’s acceptance ended a 30-hour stalemate in which his future was unclear.
The 19-year-old feels he belongs in the NHL and was disappointed when Sabres management felt otherwise. The Sabres assigned him to the Quebec Remparts on Saturday, and he and agent Jay Grossman rejected the move.
They came around after talks with the Sabres’ brass.
“We had some real serious concerns about the development process for this player that I think were warranted,” Grossman said by phone late Sunday. “Going down to Quebec, he’ll play for his seventh coach in one calendar year. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that.
“So we wanted to look at this a lot more carefully with the Sabres and make sure that with respect to his development that we were all on the same page and moving collectively in the right direction.”
Grigorenko has been caught in a whirlwind of teams and assignments since Buffalo decided to bring him up last season. He didn’t stay long and has since played in Quebec, Rochester, Buffalo and Russia multiple times with the country’s world junior team.
He hasn’t been given a chance to show his skills on an NHL scoring line, and he also hasn’t shown he deserves the chance. He’ll get the opportunity to again dominate in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“Junior hockey’s a good place to develop,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who made his name in the Ontario Hockey League. “I know P.K. Subban played four years in Belleville. He turned out pretty good.”
While Grigorenko feels he belongs in the NHL after playing 43 games at the top level, learning opportunities remain during a player’s final season of junior hockey.
“Being one of the go-to guys, playing in all situations,” said Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk. “I think you learn how to manage the game a little bit differently when you’re playing. You learn how to be a leader. You learn that guys are looking up to you and seeing what you’re doing. You’ve got to lead by example both on and off the ice.”
When Pysyk entered his final year of junior hockey, he believed he could play in Buffalo and the NHL.
“I did think maybe it was a shot,” the defenseman said. “Now, after being here, I don’t think there was a shot in hell that I was even close. When you’re a younger kid in junior, your mind sort of wanders. You think you can do whatever, but it’s obviously tough to get here.”
The Kontinental Hockey League had been discussed in regards to Grigorenko, but it never looked like a realistic option. There would have been a huge fight between the NHL, KHL and International Ice Hockey Federation over his rights if the Russian had attempted to play in his homeland.
Though the memorandum of understanding between the leagues has expired, the NHL and KHL stated in their former agreement they would “recognize and support the main principle: players under contract with a club from one league cannot fulfill any obligation to a club from another league during the term of the player’s contract.”
A big day for Sabres fans has arrived. NHL Central Scouting will release its midterm rankings on NHL.com. The 30th-place Sabres are in line for the first overall draft pick. Central Scouting’s report will give an indication which players are expected to be selected at the top.
Another big day is coming Tuesday. USA Hockey announced it will make a “significant announcement” in First Niagara Center. Speakers will include Executive Director Dave Ogrean and Jim Johansson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations. The news conference could involve HarborCenter or an international tournament.
Cody Hodgson returned to the lineup Sunday after missing eight games with an injury, while Ville Leino was back after a three-game absence. Besides scoring the only goal in the shootout, Hodgson had an assist in 17:16 during the Sabres’ 2-1 victory. Leino was minus-1 in 15:49.
“They seemed to add some energy,” Nolan said. “To get them back, it seemed like you brought two whole new lines into your lineup.”
The game started with a laugh. The Capitals celebrated “Kids’ Day” by letting a young fan conduct the ceremonial opening faceoff. After captains Alex Ovechkin and Steve Ott arrived at center ice, the boy jokingly kicked Ott out of the faceoff and waved him away from the dot.
“That was awesome of the kid,” Ott said. “That’s fun. To put some smiles on that kid’s face was pretty awesome.”