TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 13: 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Joe Nieuwendyk takes part in the Hall blazer presentation prior to the Legends of Hockey game at the Air Canada Centre on November 13, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The third in SB Nation Dallas' series of evaluating prospects in the NHL Draft, Luther Xue takes a look at Mikhail Grigorenko, as his draft stock is falling.
Today's draft profile is over one of the most interesting cases in this year's draft, Mikhail Grigorenko. As recently as one month ago, Girgorenko was a consensus top-three pick and best center available in the draft. Fast forward to today and his stock has dropped and dropped and continued to drop to where now it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he fell out of the top 10-15 range (though it would still shock me). Looking through many prospect rankings, everyone seems confused of what to expect out of the 18-year-old Russian and I've seen him ranked as high as third and as low as 24th. No matter the ranking though, it seems there is a growing concern across the board that he might turn out to be a bust.
Grigorenko had his first taste of North American hockey this season as he played with the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL. What did he do in his rookie year? He only destroyed the competition on his way to 40 goals and 45 assists in just 59 games. He had the best season of any rookie in the league and finished top-eight in the league in scoring despite playing up to nine fewer games than the leaders. He's the only guy in the top 10 that didn't play at least 61 games. His fantastic regular season had him nominated as the top pro prospect in his entire league and serious talk on whether or not he could be the best player in the draft.
On paper, there's nothing to dislike about the young Russian. At 18-years-old, he's 6'3" and pushing near 200 lbs. He has as much, if not more, talent than the consensus number one pick in the draft, Nail Yakupov and it shows on the ice. With how big he is, he's not pushed around in traffic and can bully his way through defensemen. He has incredible hands, is able to work the puck like it's on a string and is a smooth skater that has explosive speed and acceleration. He understands the game, plays smart, and has a vision on the ice that can you would really only expect to find in 10 year veterans. His offensive potential is immeasurable (expect that it's sky high) and he's about as complete and polished an offensive center as you'll find.
So with all of these rave reviews over his skills, just how did he begin to fall in the draft? It all comes down to one thing, his heritage. Russian players have a stigma in the NHL as soft, lazy and passive players that have a tendency to disappear in the big moments. Grigorenko has spent a majority of his career playing in Russia and there has been that worry that he shares that same tendency with other Russians (to be fair, guys like Alexander Radulov and Alexander Semin do nothing to quell those concerns and he did disappear at times).
There were no worries of this during the regular season for Grigorenko, but once the QMJHL playoffs hit; his mentality became a giant red flag. In 11 playoff games, he only had three goals and seven assists as his team was bounced in the second round. His effort on the ice is now a big question mark and he's now become known as a guy that will take many shifts off during a game and not engaging in the action. He has no defensive game to speak of (though next to no 18-year-olds are great in that area) and he doesn't fully use his size to his advantage in battles along the boards. There's also a growing concern that he may return to Russia if a high profile KHL team pursues his services, thus rendering a pick on him useless (a concern that leads teams to take him off their boards entirely).