The Sabres will soon have to decide whether Mikhail Grigorenko will be on their opening-day roster. The team has to be down to the 23-player maximum by Friday afternoon.
Though practice indicates he'll be in the lineup Sunday against Philadelphia -- the 18-year-old center remains between veteran wingers Steve Ott and Ville Leino -- coach Lindy Ruff says the team is still deciding whether to keep the first-round draft pick and give him a five-game tryout, or return him to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"It really is the toughest question to answer," Ruff said after practice today in First Niagara Center. "I just know if we feel he’s ready to help us win, we’ll use those games. We’ll make that decision at the end of the week. If we feel he’s ready, that he can help us win hockey games, he’ll in all likelihood be there."
One of the hardest parts for Ruff is projecting how Grigorenko will compete once pucks drop for real. The Russian, who has dominated the junior level, has never played against men.
"You’d love to see him in preseason games," Ruff said. "You’d love to see him against somebody else’s competition. It’s a great way to see where a guy’s at.
"Then along the way, there’s the physical part of it, the mental, the grind of the schedule. There’s everything inside of that. But when you’re evaluating those young players against an opposition that’s coming after you, you get to see a guy under the gun. We don’t have that luxury so we’re trying to do it in this intrasquad games, we’re tying to do it in practice.
"He’s had three good days, so for me you watch him play at the world juniors. You put value in that. You put value in the growth and if he keeps growing, a week from now where’s he going to be at? It’s just all the stuff we’re going to, steady as she goes, try to evaluate and make the right decision to make us a better team."