Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mikhail Grigorenko Rookie Fabric Card

Every hockey fanatic in Québec knows a little about the Junior leagues, and just like Alexander Radulov five years before him, Mikhail Grigorenko tore it up playing for Patrick Roy on the Québec Remparts.

As a player, Roy was more than just the most ''clutch'' player of all time and perhaps the best goalie as well - he was also a passionate, fiery genius who understood every aspect of a game and could explain them to each of his teammates.

When he made the switch to coaching, he started with teenagers and young adults so as to have clean slates to work with, and it didn't take long before he proved he could develop pretty gifted ones into great offensive weapons - Radulov and Grigorenko chief among them. As can be attested by Radulov's last half-season with the Nashville Predators, though, he does not harness his studs, though, so it's up to them to develop the right amount of maturity to become professionals and young adults off the ice.

Grigorenko was in a bit of a bind last season, as he was way too good for Juniors and, at 19 years old, too old to play with teenagers. He wasn't allowed to play in the AHL because of CHL rules, so his only other option on the continent was with the Buffalo Sabres, who had drafted him 12th overall in 2012 - a steal considering he was the third-ranked North American skater, but the fact that he's Russian and ''has that KHL option'' (as if Canadians and Americans didn't) no doubt played a role in his dropping a few spots.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the Sabres were awful, poorly managed, no environment to nurture a young player in, always losing, and in shambles, and they kept him with the team for far too long, making it seem like a punishment when he did end up getting sent to Québec.

And don't let his NHL statistics (8 points in 43 games) fool you, when this guy is on the ice, the puck goes in the opposing team's net. All the time. With 47 points and 4 medals (three bronze and one silver) in 33 games representing Russia five times in Juniors, Grigorenko has faced the best players in his age range and embarrassed them on a consistent basis. His statistics with the Remparts are also awe-inspiring: 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games in his rookie season; 30 goals and 54 points in 33 games in his sophomore year which ended with his spending the locked-out half-season in the NHL; and last year, which many observers called ''disappointing'', 15 goals and 39 points in 23 games, as a 19-year old - nearly two points a game!

He will end up being a #1 center in the NHL, and probably within three years. He just turned 20, is 6'3'' and 200 pounds, is creative with the puck, plays a terrific defensive game for a guy his age (thanks to Roy's tremendous coaching), and can shoot, deke and pass with the same level of dexterity.

He knows he's good, though, so he may still slack off for a game or two once in a while, but when he does find the maturity to want to be the best at all times, he will become unstoppable even at the NHL level.

Also, if the negotiations between the Colorado Avalanche and Ryan O'Reilly turn (even more) sour, I can see these guys getting traded for one another to reunite the former master-and-student team. In the meantime, though, Quebecers get to watch Grigorenko suit up for the Sabres and face the Montréal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators five times each per year, so it's almost like he never left the province.

Speaking of which, here's a card where he's sporting Buffalo's recent blue (home) uniform, a bit of a throwback to their old 1970s and 1980s uniforms, but with useless piping and even more useless jersey number on the chest; it's from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition card (#RF-MG of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set), featuring a big blue swatch of a jersey worn in a photo shoot:

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