Colorado Avalanche center Mikhail Grigorenko has another chance at a gut check.
By now you know the story of Colorado Avalanche center Mikhail Grigorenko. He excelled under head coach Patrick Roy in the QMJHL. His career sputtered with the Buffalo Sabres, and one of the issues was his work ethic. He was part of the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo, where he’s now the team scoring leader.
A lot of eyes are on Grigorenko. It’s not just that we want to think we got a player of significance in return for O’Reilly. It’s also that he seems to have so much exciting scoring potential.
Coach Roy sees it, too. He said during a post-practice interview that he thought Grigorenko could play at the NHL level and even be “dominant.”
Mikhail Grigorenko hasn’t show that thus far for the Colorado Avalanche. In 25 games he has just 10 points, and only one of them is a goal. Here it is:
Part of the argument about Grigorenko has been that he hasn’t had a decent line on which to skate. He played on the fourth line of a terrible Sabres team, and he spent a lot of time in a similar position with Colorado, though with significantly better linemates.
In the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Grigorenko got his best chance. Left wing Gabriel Landeskog was a late scratch because of back spasms. Coach Roy plugged Grigorenko right into his spot — on the top line skating with the Avalanche’s best, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Grigorenko did register an assist on Duchene’s first-period goal. However, coach Roy yanked him from the top line in favor of Alex Tanguay. Grigorenko was back to skating on the fourth line, in this case with Chris Wagner and Jack Skille. Good enough players, but certainly not Duchene and MacKinnon.
Coach Roy said of his decision in a post-game presser:
"“He was not good enough on the one-on-one battles. He needs to win his battles. He lost a lot of battles.”"
Roy added that Grigorenko was going to have to start showing a lot more effort if he wanted the chance to skate on the top line again.
Grigorenko admitted in the post-practice presser that he probably wasn’t 100 percent ready to go against Pittsburgh because he was supposed to be a healthy scratch. The announcement that he’d even be playing came last minute. Mikhail said of his state of mind:
"“All of a sudden I was playing on the first line. I was a little nervous maybe and the puck was bouncing a couple of times.”"
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Well, Grigorenko must have shown enough spark later in the game and even in practice., because coach Roy is giving him another chance. In the event that Landeskog can’t play against the Nashville Predators tonight, Grigorenko is getting the start on that top line again. Roy said he wants to give Mikhail “all the chances possible to play on that line.”
Mikhail Grigorenko has a short leash, though. Roy also said he’ll yank Grigo if he stops competing.
Mikhail’s position on the team is a little special because of his former relationship with Patrick Roy. Grigorenko produced 70 goals in two seasons for coach Roy’s Quebec Remperts, but even that wasn’t enough. Roy said:
"“I know that the reason he was unable to bring the [Remparts] to the next level was his compete level could have been better.”"
That may seem a little harsh, and it is. Coach Roy is deliberately going hard on Grigorenko. It’s a measure of Roy’s respect for Grigo’s abilities:
"“I’m harder on him because I like him a lot. I’m going to be a little tougher on him because I think he has great IQ, he’s got great talent, he’s got a great shot. He has all the tools to play at our level.”"
Like I said before, when you see Mikhail Grigorenko’s raw skill, it does seem worth the extra effort to give him an extra chance. That’s what’s needed, though — effort.
Mikhail Grigorenko’s head is in the right space. He knows he doesn’t “have the privilege to lose a battle or make mistakes” if he wants to stay skating on the top line.
I’m not going to say I hope Gabriel Landeskog has to miss another game so that Mikhail Grigorenko has his chance. I hope Landeskog can play and that Grigorenko gets to skate on the second line, or at least the third. I do hope he gets that opportunity to show some spark in his play — the compete level that coach Roy wants to see from this talented young forward.