By Mike Harrington
Following today's USA Hockey announcement regarding the return of the Prospects Game to First Niagara Center, Pat LaFontaine spoke to the media for the first time about the Mikhail Grigorenko situation. The Sabres' president of hockey operations made it clear the team believes the decision to return the 19-year-old to junior hockey is by far best for his development and also made a point no one had really thought of.
The kid needs to play. And we're coming up on a month where he wouldn't see much ice if he was still in the NHL.
"One of the big parts of the decision is that once the Olympics come around if he's not playing in Rochester, he's sitting around for 20 days," LaFontaine said. "A player at 19 years of age needs to develop. He needs to be playing. You also want to put a player in a position to succeed. Maybe he's played a few years already there and done very well, but he hasn't won a Memorial Cup yet."
LaFontaine said the message to Grigorenko was clear -- go to Quebec, play 20-25 minutes a game including power play time, improve his all-around skills to become a 200-foot player and try to become a leader on a championship team.
"We're doing what we think is best to help develop our players and care for them and what they need," LaFontaine said. "I really think under the circumstances we're doing the best thing.
"The old-school part of it is you really have to earn it. There has to be a standard. And when you get to the NHL, you have to be a consistent pro. Becoming a consistent NHL level player every night, that's hard."
And LaFontaine made it clear he feels the team's previous regime (see Regier, Darcy; and Ruff, Lindy) pretty much messed this whole thing up. No disagreement here. Olympics or no Olympics, Grigorenko simply isn't an NHL-level player yet.
"It's unfortunate that it hasn't been the right program or protocol that should have occurred," LaFontaine said. "I don't think it was. It happened. But that's behind us now. What we need to do is what's best for Mikhail going forward."