Ted Nolan has a very specific direction in mind for the Buffalo Sabres. While it’s tough to tell exactly what the head coach is thinking to this point in his tenure, one thing has been very evident: he has no interest in seeing young players struggle to carry the burden of being go-to guys at the NHL level.
He made that loud and clear with a recent series of demotions and promotions, and this mildly new-look lineup was set to debut against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. One teenager stuck around however. One part of the plan didn’t work out exactly like Nolan had envisioned.
The hangup came yesterday when the NHL nixed Buffalo’s attempt to send Mikhail Grigorenko to the AHL on a conditioning stint. The optics of that choice are somewhat complicated. Grigorenko’s statement to Nolan after returning to the NHL was anything but. The coach spoke to Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News today, and spoke about what the 19-year-old had to say:
You have to give him some credit. He’s the one who said, ‘You haven’t seen me play yet.’ He said it to us three or four times yesterday. We’ll see him play and see what he has. He’s a young, up-and-coming player who’s going to be important in our organization. We have to be sure we put him in a good place and see what he has.
It’s unclear at this point just what kind of shot Grigorenko will receive here. The Sabres may just be trying to buy some time before the Quebec Remparts can make room for the Russian center, or they may be honestly trying to see what the kid has. What Nolan does know at this point is that Grigorenko isn’t ready to be a top-six forward in the NHL.
Could he take a page out of Patrick Roy’s thin but successful playbook and get Grigorenko some playing time as the third-line pivot? That’s worked marvelously for Nathan MacKinnon.
Regardless of who Nolan takes ques from, the fact is that he has a remarkably talented player on his hands, and he needs to do what the previous regime couldn’t.
He needs to figure out how to get Grigorenko going. If Nolan can manage that, he will have slain the only thing that’s stopping the youngster from growing into an impactful forward at the NHL level, and Buffalo will be a bit further ahead in their rebuild than it initially appeared.