The above picture is essentially a live action shot of Grigorenko playing in the Quebec League this year. A man amongst boys, truly.
Born: May 16, 1994
Each draft has its ‘X Factor’, its ‘Sure Thing’ and as recent history dictates, its ‘Prodigy’. Yet, for all of the merits of these designations, there is one title which pervades every single draft, regardless of whether or not the other three are present. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you, the ‘Enigma’.
Mikhail Grigorenko should be the best prospect in this draft. Nail Yakupov is a phenomenal talent and will be an outstanding NHLer, but Grigorenko ought to be better. On pure ability alone the two are indiscernible and were seen from a mile away as competitors to go first overall in 2012. Yet, as they inched closer and closer to draft day, Yakupov pulled further and further away from his fellow Russian. The smaller player with concussion history is the blue chip, and the bigger, brain injury free player is the red flag.
With so many things in his favor, why is Grigorenko such a question mark? Most of it can be boiled down to his attitude.
“I had one scout tell me that Grigorenko’s problems reminds him of all the bad qualities of Jason Spezza,” said Neate Sager, editor of Yahoo!’s Buzzing the Net. ”He’s a great shooter, great puck handler but does he work hard enough?”
“There were a lot of games where Grigorenko wasn’t much of a factor once teams really started to check him. You expect guys to kick it up a notch late in the year and they (Quebec) blew a 3-0 lead in the playoffs.”
If great responsibility comes with great power, Grigorenko is the hockey equivalent. Here is a player with seemingly infinite gifts to play the sport and even with his ability to dominate opposition at the major junior level, scouts and pundits were left wondering if he was truly trying or simply floating by on talent.
Despite the knocks against him there are other factors at play. Grigorenko missed part of the season with an ankle injury and had a bout with mono in 2011-12. Both surely put a dent in his day-to-day play and overall production. Once those are factored in you’re still left with a player who had a 40 goal, 85 point season in just 59 games as a Quebec League rookie.
Grigorenko will never be a lock to turn things around from an attitude perspective. It may very well happen — this could be a simple issue of maturity — but there have been plenty of players who had question marks pop up and never overcame them.
Surely this necessitates a different question, how good can Grigorenko be even if the concerns are never resolved?
“If he’s not fully on board it’ll be tough, but if anything, I think that all this hype surrounding him will probably snap him in to realizing he’s been given a great opportunity to be an NHLer because of his frame, because of his mind — his hockey mind — and his skillset,” said Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. “For me it almost reminds me of last year, there were questions surrounding Sean Couturier, he could have gone number one at some point and there were questions of ‘Does he compete every shift or does he kind of go in an out?’ and ironically he had mono at one point too just like Grigorenko at the end there. And of course, we see Couturier gets an opportunity with the Flyers, mostly in a grinding, penalty kill role and he’s great. He still gets the offense.”
The question of Grigorenko isn’t so much about if he can do it — his skills are indisputably up to the task — it’s a matter of whether or not a team is willing to confront the risk he brings, to work him into the lineup, to make themselves a good fit.
If it all plays out the way things did with Sean Couturier, Mikhail Grigorenko could very well be the best player from the 2012 Draft, regardless of how many questions have popped up.
“I don’t want to shut the door on Grigorenko yet,” said Kennedy. “He played for Patrick Roy in Quebec, he’s got good people surrounding him, so if he gets into the right situation and he’s properly engaged, what you’re left with is a player with tremendous upside. GMs tell me he is a top two talent it’s just a matter of if you’re willing to take him with those top two picks.”
Don’t be surprised if someone does just that.