BUFFALO — If all goes well, then come October, Mikhail Grigorenko, the prized center selected 12th overall Friday at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, will be the first 18-year-old playing regularly for the Sabres since Pierre Turgeon in 1987.
The Sabres, who introduced Grigorenko on Monday inside the First Niagara Center, plan to give the Russian every chance to make the big club instead of going back to the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
General manager Darcy Regier hopes to start working on a contract soon. In the meantime, Grigorenko will be working out in Buffalo until the team’s prospect camp next month.
“I think it’s a possibility he’ll challenge for a spot,” said Kevin Devine, the team’s director of amateur scouting, reiterating something he and Regier said Friday.
Grigorenko, a prospect some ranked as the draft’s most talented, could have an instant impact. With the free agent market, which opens Sunday, “very thin,” according to Regier, a teenager might end up being the team’s biggest offseason addition.
“The quality is there,” Regier said about the market. “The quantity isn’t there, and so there will be an awful lot of competition for really very few players, so most teams are going to fail in unrestricted free agency. Hopefully, we’re not one of them.”
It’s unclear what the Sabres will do. Their two unrestricted free agents – forwards Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht – likely won’t return. Regier has mentioned they need a winger. More grit wouldn’t hurt, either. Regier’s willing to pursue trades.
He doesn’t want to lean too heavily on Grigorenko or center Zemgus Girgensons, who they moved up to grab 14th overall. Right now, the Latvian’s still slated to attend the University of Vermont this fall.
Since he played in the USHL, Girgensons is eligible to play in Rochester next season. The Sabres could make a decision in the coming weeks.
“We’ll still look for ways to improve the team in the short term and possibly that extends to the long term,” Regier said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put it on these young fellows to step in immediately and contribute. I understand the possibility.
“There’s always surprises, and certainly Mikhail will have that opportunity in training camp. … When that’s happened in the past with someone like (defenseman) Tyler Myers, it’s a bonus.”
A year ago, the Sabres dove headfirst into free agency. First, they jumped the gun, traded for Christian Ehrhoff’s rights and signed the defenseman to a 10-year, $40 million contract. A day later, they inked forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Following a 25-point season, Leino’s contract might the NHL’s worst.
According to capgeek.com, the Sabres are $11,745,477 under the salary cap, which stands at $70.3 million right now. That could change with a new collective bargaining agreement.
The undisputed kings of this free agency class are New Jersey winger Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. The talent falls off a cliff after them. PA Parenteau, an AHL winger before compiling 120 points over two seasons with the New York Islanders, might be next best player available.
Why has the market become so thin?
“With unrestricted free agency at 27, if you have good players, you’re trying to lock them up to ensure you don’t have to go buying on the unrestricted market,” Regier said. “Teams are trying to lock up their talent and have been successful. The cap continues to go up, so they haven’t had to trade players or make more players available on the marketplace, and it’s made it very thin.”
Does a thin market lead to overspending?
“One might say overspending leads to thin,” Regier cracked.
Regier believes the CBA, which expires Sept. 15, will play a factor this summer. It won’t impact the top players, he said.
“But I think it will impact a lot of other areas and other decisions that we make,” he said. “How exactly, I’m not sure. There’s a lot of areas in there. But I think everybody is proceeding with the understanding that we’re going to have a new CBA and try to figure out how that may impact decisions going forward.”
Regier plans to start negotiating with center Tyler Ennis, the Sabres’ top restricted free agent, after Sunday. He doesn’t “foresee a real long-term contract on this one.”
The Sabres tendered all their restricted free agents, Regier said, including Dennis Persson, a defenseman they selected 24th overall in 2006 who recently signed a deal to play overseas. They retain his rights and still consider the 24-year-old a prospect.
Rumors have been swirling Grigorenko, who hails from the same Russian town, Khabarovsk, as former 76-goal scorer Alexander Mogilny, wants to wear the legend’s No. 89.
“I don’t know,” Grigorenko said. “It’s his number, so I don’t think it would be nice to wear his number.”
Grigorenko, who arrived in town Sunday, said he hasn’t seen much of the area.
“He saw the lake from the eighth floor of the Embassy Suites,” Regier joked.