Three prospects arrived from Rochester and skated Wednesday morning with the Buffalo Sabres in First Niagara Center. Two will be in the lineup when the Sabres play the suddenly-streaking Philadelphia Flyers tonight in Wells Fargo Center.
The third seems stuck in limbo.
While Luke Adam and Brayden McNabb took their paces in preparation for making their season debuts, Mikhail Grigorenko had no idea what was next for him. The National Hockey League rejected Grigorenko’s 14-day conditioning assignment to Rochester and the 19-year-old was instructed to return to the NHL.
The Sabres don’t appear to have any plans for using Grigorenko, who has been a healthy scratch for six of the last eight games and all three under interim coach Ted Nolan. And there are obstacles to sending Grigorenko back to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, because of junior rules about imports on the roster.
Still, a continued seat in the press box doesn’t seem like the best way to develop a former first-round draft pick, either.
In rejecting the conditioning assignment – which is normally used for players coming off injury – the NHL is clearly backing its agreement with the Canadian Hockey League, the governing body of the junior ranks, which prevents its clubs from assigning players to the AHL if they have junior eligibility remaining.
“It’s just one of those situations where I thought we were doing the right thing,” Nolan said after practice. “All of a sudden, it is what it is. We’ll have to sit down and evaluate what the next step is.
“You read the rules, see how they work,” Nolan said. “We thought we were doing it by the rule book. Unfortunately we weren’t.”
Grigorenko had driven to Rochester before receiving a phone call Tuesday night after 10 from Mark Jakubowski, assistant to the vacant general manager’s post, instructing him to drive back to Buffalo for practice the next morning.
“I needed to play. I lost a little bit of my conditioning so I needed to get it back,” said Grigorenko, who had been battling the flu and gave his consent for the Rochester assignment. “There, I would have had a lot of ice time.”
The Sabres did not make new president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine available for comment on the Grigorenko situation, and said in a brief release that “the team respects the League’s decision.” Still, the club was clearly surprised by the NHL’s ruling.
“We talked about it and thought this could be one of the solutions,” Nolan said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work. We have to go back to the drawing board and see what else might work and what’s the best situation for him to develop his skills and be the dominant player we all think he could be in this organization.”
Nolan said he sympathized with Grigorenko’s predicament moving forward. Grigorenko, who has two goals and an assist in 14 games, insisted he’s ready to play when the Sabres call on him.
“He’s a really intense coach,” Grigorenko said of Nolan. “He wants everyone to play with passion and work hard. He wants everyone to be the best player he could be.”
Adam entered Wednesday tied as the best goal scorer in the AHL with 13 goals in 18 games. He said he’s kept a tunnel vision approach to his game, especially since he fell out of favor with former coaches Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston, and ex-General Manager Darcy Regier.
“I was focused on what I could control,” said Adam. “I wasn’t focused a whole lot on coming back here, getting back to Buffalo and how Buffalo was doing.”
Adam had 10 goals in 52 games for the Sabres in 2011-12, starting the season red-hot as the center between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and getting chosen for the All-Star rookie festivities in Ottawa. But his play has never matched that hot streak, with Ruff benching him and Regier completely passing him over in camp this year.
“He’s always had his opinions on what type of player I was, how I could help this team, how I couldn’t help this team,” Adam said of Regier. “To have a fresh staff in here, it’s exciting. I see guys in here that are pretty excited and ready to move forward.”
Adam skated on left wing Wednesday, with Steve Ott centering and Zemgus Girgensons at right wing. Nolan said Girgensons, a natural center who has played in the middle the last three games, will move back to the wing tonight and may stay there for the foreseeable future.
McNabb led Rochester defensemen with 12 points in 15 games. He played 25 games for the Sabres in 2011-12 but did not appear in the NHL last season. McNabb set career-highs in goals (5), assists (31) and points (36) while appearing in 62 games for the Amerks last season.
The Sabres completely bypassed McNabb last year as he struggled in Rochester prior to the lockout. It was pretty much the same drill for him in training camp as he fell behind rookies Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
“I took it to heart,” McNabb said. “I wanted to be here from the get-go. You face some adversity. I had some last year and you learn a lot from that kind of thing. Last year was a learning curve for my career but I think it’s helped me.”
McNabb shuffled through the defense pairs in practice Wednesday so it’s not clear who he will partner with tonight.