Colorado Avalanche: The Talented Mikhail Grigorenko


 Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko has the talent to become a key part of the Avs’ rebuild, but it’s no guarantee.

When it was announced that the Colorado Avalanche finally traded Ryan O’Reilly and that the return for him would include the young Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko, I was thrilled. Although many didn’t share this feeling, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the forward’s tantalizing talent.

Entering his draft year in 2012, Grigorenko was considered one of the highest rated junior prospects.  Playing for Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts, in his rookie season in the QMJHL Grigorenko led all rookies in points, posting 40 goals and 45 assists in 50 games. Additionally, he was awarded the Mike Bossy Trophy as the most professional prospect of the QMJHL.  

Prior to the draft, ESPN writer, Corey Pronman summarized Grigorenko’s potential, stating:

"“Grigorenko is a very special kind of talent who scouts have been hearing about for many years…He’s an exceptionally gifted player who can control the flow of a hockey game seemingly at will with elite puck skills, vision, offensive creativity, and overall hockey sense…he’s the kind of talent who NHL sources have described as the best guy on the ice while he’s going 75%”."

As the scouting report suggests. Grigorenko’s talent is undeniable. However, his junior and professional careers have been shadowed by criticism of his work ethic, commitment and consistency.  These critiques began during his junior career before he was drafted 12th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2012, and have followed him since.  

In May of 2012, chief scout of North American Central Scouting, Mark Seidel, said of Grigorenko:

"“talent-wise, he might be above [Nail] Yakupov…He has a chance to be a franchise center.  But the problem is he plays when he wants to.”"

During that season, Central Scouting had Grigorenko ranked as high as 2nd overall.  Unfortunately, Grigorenko ended up having to battle not only the critique of inconsistency, but also injury and mononucleosis.  He continued to fall in the draft rankings and ultimately went 12th overall in the 2012 draft.    

After spending three seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization — jumping between the NHL, AHL and the QMJHL — Grigorenko posted career highs in games played, goals and assists in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche.  Despite the relative success of his first season with the Avs, Grigorenko has much more to prove, and his success is an x-factor in the Avs’ ability to return to contender status in the NHL.

As pointed out by fellow MHS writer, Mark T in his article Mikhail Grigorenko Must Prove Himself the results of the Ryan O’Reilly trade are not contingent on Grigorenko’s success. However, if he gets his game together, the Colorado Avalanche’s offense could be transformed.  

Fairly frequently throughout the 2015-16, season and more often during the off season, I’ve found myself rewatching highlights from Mikhail Grigorenko’s first season with the Colorado Avalanche. Aside from appreciating his incredible talent, I love watching these highlights because I love hearing Colorado Avalanche color analyst Peter McNab rave about Grigorenko’s skill.  To paraphrase, McNab has said repeatedly that Grigorenko’s puck skills might be the best on the team, and that he will become an impact player when he figures his game out.  

Talent is what sets Grigorenko apart, and what makes him so valuable to the Colorado Avalanche.  Obviously talent doesn’t guarantee success at the NHL level. However, it is the one quality that can’t be taught.  Skills can be developed with practice, but talent is innate, and therefore precious when it can be identified and matured.  

Being called inconsistent or being criticized for your work ethic are two of the worst critiques an NHL player can face. They are even harder to shake, especially for Russian born players like Grigorenko.  However, a player possesses the ability to change his work ethic and become a committed and consistent contributor, whereas talent is a gift.  

Here’s an example of Grigorenko making goal-scoring look easy:

Mikhail Grigorenko’s talent is off the board — now it’s down to his commitment, his willingness to grow and the hard work of the Avs development staff to get him to where he needs to be.

Currently, the core of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon represents a dangerous, but manageable offensive threat to opposing teams.  Grigorenko is the Colorado Avalanche’s chance to add another gifted player to their top-six, which would become lethal if both Grigorenko and Mikko Rantanen reached their potential.  The Avs need to make sure they do everything to make this happen given the rarity of Grigorenko’s skill set.

The best part about Grigorenko’s potential for the Colorado Avalanche is that he doesn’t need to be the star of the team or the franchise center some predicted he could be.  In order for him to deserve a top-six role, he needs to be able to put up 45-60 points in secondary scoring, solidify his defensive play, provide legitimate depth on the power play and force opposing teams to play their first or second pairing defenders against him. Given his talent, this should all be achievable.  

Rather than face salary arbitration, Grigorenko signed a one year, $1.3 million contract.  This could be his last season with the Avs, or the beginning of a long relationship.  This upcoming season is critical to his future in the NHL and will be fascinating to watch.  

Fortunately, the Colorado Avalanche’s long-term success is not tied up in his success, however, he could become a key player in the rebirth of the franchise.

In 2012, chief scout of International Scouting Service (ISS), Dennis McInnis said of Grigorenko, “I could see a perfect storm happening where [Grigorenko] drops, but if that happens, in five years there could be a lot of GMs saying, ‘How’d I miss that?’”  Entering his fifth NHL season, hopefully Grigo understands the potential he possesses and finds a way to put his game together.
If Grigorenko is unable to become the player the Avs are hoping for, the rebuild will not suffer much.  However, I will be watching Grigo anxiously as a hockey fan and an Avs fan, hoping that we will all get to enjoy his incredible talent on full display putting points for the Colorado Avalanche.