Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko was possibly the biggest wild card coming into this season. He was part of the return for former Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly (and winger Jamie McGinn). However, defenseman Nikita Zadorov was considered the bigger part of the deal.
Mikhail Grigorenko in Buffalo
A lot of the questions surrounding Mikhail Grigorenko coming into the season stemmed from how unimpressive he was with the Buffalo Sabres. Last season he skated in 25 games and earned just three goals and three assists.
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Grigorenko is supposed to be a goal scorer of the Russian style — the kind that skates so smoothly and scores a lot. He certainly did that in the QMJHL. When he played for the Quebec Remparts, he scored 85 goals in 115 games.
The other big story was that 70 of those goals came while being coached by current Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. Some of the hope was that Grigorenko would find his scoring touch under his old coach.
Early Days in Colorado
Mikhail Grigorenko came over from Buffalo as a restricted free agent. He had been balking at signing with the Buffalo Sabres because they wanted to put him on a two-way contract. He was even remarking that he might just go back to Russia and play for the KHL.
The Colorado Avalanche signed Grigorenko to a very team-friendly contract — one year, $675,000. The big part for Mikhail was that it’s a one-way contract.
Mikhail Grigorenko had a less-than-stellar preseason. He didn’t get sent to the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL-affiliate San Antonio Rampage, but he didn’t exactly make the team. He was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season.
Even when Grigorenko made it into the lineup, he started out pretty slow. He got an assist in his first game, but went five more games before getting another assist. He didn’t get his first goal until last night against the Montreal Canadiens.
New Line for Mikhail Grigorenko
Coach Roy tried Grigorenko in different places. He juggled Mikhail between the third and fourth lines. Mikhail Grigorenko skated a lot with Cody McLeod — not exactly known as a playmaker. He saw time with both John Mitchell and Carl Soderberg as his center.
During the game against the Boston Bruins, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog got a match penalty for a check on Boston forward Brad Marchand. Landeskog had been skating on the top line with Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, both red hot right now. Coach Roy popped Grigorenko into that line to replace Landeskog.
The results were pretty good. Grigorenko set up Duchene for a one-timer that ended up being the game-winning goal.
Landeskog ended up getting suspended two games. Coach Roy decided to keep Grigorenko in that top line. He said during a pre-game presser of his decision:
"“I thought they did well together in Boston. I’m curious to see how they do tonight.”"
Mikhail Grigorenko thought coach Roy saw some chemistry in the line, and he was looking forward to the opportunity.
Well, we can say Roy’s experiment went pretty well. Grigorenko got the first goal of the night, and he assisted on both of Nathan MacKinnon’s goals for a very respectable three-point night. He’s now officially matched his points total from his Sabres year, if not the goals total.
Grigorenko’s first goal as an Avalanche:
So, now the question comes if Mikhail Grigorenko has earned a more permanent spot on the top line. Will he stay with MacKinnon and Duchene even when Landeskog returns.
It’s not like Landeskog would be demoted. He’d simply take his place on the other top line, skating with Jarome Iginla and Carl Soderberg. Chemistry is a powerful force in scoring, so it’d be hard to justify moving him off that line if their scoring continues.
In any case, it was a lot of fun to watch that line tonight.
Colorado Avalanche left wing Blake Comeau skated in his 500th game and made his 200th point tonight. He made that point in a dramatic fashion — with a short-handed goal.
Nathan MacKinnon scored back-to-back goals with the fastest time of his career — just 13 seconds apart. (The first also turned out to be the game winner.) Witness:
MacKinnon had six points on the road trip coming into the game. As he also assisted on Duchene’s power play goal in the third period, he now has nine points.
The Colorado Avalanche have a breather on this epic road trip. The don’t play again until Tuesday, when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will be the second game of Landeskog’s suspension.
It’s a pretty good bet coach Roy will keep Mikhail Grigorenko on the top line for that night at least.