When 8 of the top 10 picks in the 2012 NHL Draft were along the blueline, Sabres fans were wondering which of their preferred centers would be available at #12. They ended up with someone for whom Sabres fans were trying to tank in order to acquire - Mikhail Grigorenko.
Grigorenko, in case you've been under a rock during the run-up to the draft, is a big, top-flight Russian center who tallied 40-45-85 and a +35 in just 59 games for the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL this past season, while receiving only 12 PIM. Standing 6'3'', 201lbs, he was projected to go in the top 3 of the draft before questions of his effort and Russian heritage plummeted him down draft boards.
Let's address both of those concerns here - his supposed laziness in the playoffs can be traced to both an injury suffered at the end of the season and the fact that he played with mononucleosis, for which he had the medical papers to prove. Despite those obstacles, he still managed 3 goals and 7 assists in 11 playoff games this season.
As for concerns that he might bolt to the KHL, he told Bill Hoppe, "I can say now Buffalo Sabres is my team. I can't wait to go on the ice." Okay, so we'll have to work on his English a bit (he learned it in under a year!) but he did tell Darcy Regier that if he didn't make the team, he would go back to Quebec City.
If you're not already excited enough, take a look at his scouting report from Hockey's Future:
A big man in the pivot position, Grigorenko is still adjusting to the North American game. Offensively, he displays great patience with the puck and the ability to find open ice or feed a pass to an open man. Although he has been criticized for his consistency and intensity, Grigorenko played through a handful of injuries during the year and his talent level is undeniable. A smooth skater with great hands, he made strides during the season to play a more all-around game.
Grigorenko is a risk thanks to the questions about his effort and the omnipresent "Russian Factor," and he's an uncharacteristic pick for the North American-focused Sabres, but one could pay huge dividends. Make no mistake, Sabres fans, if he develops to his full potential, you're looking at the next great Russian player. He's been compared to Malkin, Olli Jokinen, and Alexi Yashin - that's the potential we're talking about.
The best part about Grigorenko? This quote, courtesy of Puck Daddy:
"All the time, I think the Buffalo Sabres jersey is, like, one of the most beautiful jerseys in the League."
This pick signified that the Sabres organization is willing to take a chance to hit not just a home run, but a grand slam, and is another example of how the team has taken on a different mindset under the ownership of Terry Pegula.