PITTSBURGH — The defensemen kept going and going at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft; seven straight after the Montreal Canadiens selected center Alex Galchenyuk third overall, in fact.
For the Buffalo Sabres, a team targeting a talented center, the planets aligned Friday night inside the Consol Energy Center.
They got two.
Incredibly, picking 12th, the Sabres grabbed a Russian, Mikhail Grigorenko, a slick playmaking center from the QMJHL’s Quebec Ramparts ranked No. 3 among North American prospects by NHL Central Scouting.
Some had the 18-year-old Grigorenko pegged as the potential No. 1 overall selection at points during the 2011-12 season.
Minutes later, the Sabres dealt the 21st pick they had acquired from Nashville for Paul Gaustad and the 42nd selection to Calgary for the 14th pick, which they used to nab bullish Latvian center Zemgus Girgensons from the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
“It’s a good night,” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. “The center position is a very important position. … To be able to acquire two centers – two different-type centers – is good.”
For the Sabres, who need more young forward prospects, especially pivots, Friday could be a franchise-altering day.
“If you somebody told us we’d get those two guys at the end of the day, I’d be pretty happy,” said Kevin Devine, the team’s director of amateur scouting.
Grigorenko, who’s been dogged by a questionable work ethic and a belief he could bolt home to the KHL, thinks he’ll be playing for the Sabres in October.
“I will be ready to play in the NHL next year,” said Grigorenko, who hails from Khabarovsk, the same hometown as Sabres legend Alexander Mogilny.
Devine thinks he’s close to being NHL-ready.
“I’m not sure if he’s strong enough quite yet,” he said about the 6-foot-2, 191-pound Grigorenko. “But he’s got the skill level to play in the NHL right now. He’s got a big lower body. His upper body has to be developed a little bit.”