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Ristolainen back in for Sabres; Grigorenko in line to be scratched again

By John Vogl

UNIONDALE -- One first-round pick will back for Buffalo. It appears another is sitting again.

Rasmus Ristolainen, selected eighth overall in June, will return to the blue line tonight when the Sabres visit the New York Islanders. Ristolainen was minus-3 in the opening six games before getting scratched for Monday's 2-1 loss to Minnesota.

"I have to play a lot better and help the team more," Ristolainen said in Nassau Coliseum.

The defenseman wants to improve his play in front of the net, both through effort and positioning.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Grigorenko is set to be scratched for the second time in four games. The center, selected 12th overall in 2012, joined defenseman Jamie McBain as the only skaters on the ice this morning for an optional workout. McBain is expected to sit, too.

Grigorenko has no points in six games. He started on the third line Monday with wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn but skated just 8:57. It was Grigorenko's second game with less than nine mintues in his last three outings.

To hear from Ristolainen and coach Ron Rolston, click the audio files below.

Ron Rolston

Rasmus Ristolainen

Sabres' Miller available for next game, Tallinder back this weekend; Grigorenko may sit

By John Vogl

Ryan Miller made it through another full workout today without feeling the effects of a recent groin strain, so the goaltender will be available for the Sabres when they host Columbus on Thursday.

"We’re in a case where I really only missed one game in the schedule, and hopefully I get back in the rhythm where I was and we’ll go again," said Miller, who didn't dress on his scheduled night off Saturday in Pittsburgh and served as the backup Tuesday.

Miller could soon be joined by another Buffalo regular. Henrik Tallinder (upper body) worked out with skating coach Dawn Braid this morning, and coach Ron Rolston said the defenseman should be available Saturday when the Sabres visit Chicago.

Nikita Zadorov, one of the Sabres' two first-round draft picks, practiced for the first time since suffering a finger injury during training camp. The 18-year-old defenseman is still likely to be returned to his junior team in London, Ont.

"He would be available if we wanted to keep him here," Rolston said. "We have to make that decision."

The coach also has a decision to make regarding center Mikhail Grigorenko. The 19-year-old started on the third line during Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss but soon was benched and skated just 8:07.

Rookie Johan Larsson took Grigorenko's spot today in the middle of wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn. Grigorenko filled in for absent center Cody Hodgson alongside Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek, but Hodgson (maintenance day) will play Thursday, which would leave Grigorenko out of the lineup if the forwards stay the same.

"We’re in a tough situation where we go back to just putting people in the right situations, and the matchup wasn’t good," Rolston said of the benching before moving on to Grigorenko's competitiveness. "It’s getting there, but it needs to continue to improve. That’s that last hurdle for him. That’s something that he’s going to work on."

Ron Rolston

Ryan Miller

Go to the video: A trio of tallies produces a win in Columbus

By Mike Harrington

Here's a video look at the Sabres' goals in Tuesday's 3-1 preseason win in Columbus (with highlights from the Blue Jackets' radio network/arena video feed as sent to Sabres.com).

Marcus Foligno nets the first two, including one on an acrobatic move crossing the front of the net, while Corey Tropp picks the pocket of Blue Jackets goalie Mike McKenna and feeds Mikhail Grigorenko for the insurance tally in the third period.

(Hint: Don't have your cursor over the video box while it's playing or you will get the banner staying on the screen at the top. Move the cursor to the side).

Grigorenko ruled ineligible to play for Sabres in prospect tournament

By John Vogl

Mikhail Grigorenko, one of the biggest names scheduled to participate in the Traverse City prospect tournament this week, will not suit up for the Sabres after being ruled ineligible.

"Grigorenko was deemed to be ineligible for the tournament because of the number of NHL games he appeared on the Sabres’ roster in the 2012-13 season," the team announced in a release this afternoon.

The center, selected 12th overall in the 2012 draft, skated in 25 games for the Sabres during his rookie year. He had a goal and four assists while shuttling between Buffalo and his junior team in Quebec.

General Manager Darcy Regier has already said the 19-year-old will spend all of this season in Buffalo, and the tournament would have given the organization a good chance to view his offseason growth.

The only other prospects traveling to Traverse City who have played for the Sabres are defensemen Mark Pysyk (19 games) and Chad Ruhwedel (seven).

Devil of a deal: Kovalchuk stuns hockey world with retirement, apparent bolt back to KHL

By Mike Harrington

The Ilya Kovalchuk contract, a 15-year, $100-million monstrosity signed in 2010, might be the single biggest reason we lost half a season -- and nearly an entire one -- to a lockout. It was voided in stunning fashion today and not for any further rules violation.  

Kovalchuk, the talented but enigmatic Russian who told me "who cares about goals?" after scoring an overtime winner here in 2010, has stunned the hockey world by announcing his retirement at age 30 -- with still 12 years and $77 million left on the deal. Of course, he's not really retiring, as there's already plenty of chatter he's going to play next year in the KHL. His statement through the Devils cited family reasons for his decision.

The Devils, remember, lost their first-round pick for next year as a penalty for Kovalchuk's initial 17-year, $102 million deal the league wouldn't authorize. His annual cap hit of nearly $6.7 million is gone with no post-age 35 recapture penalty.

That's all fine and well but think the Devils would have liked to have known this prior to the free agency period opening July 5? They could have gone elsewhere for help. They might have even kept David Clarkson. Just a selfish move by a selfish hockey player.

Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko had just come off the ice at development camp this afternoon when he heard the news about one of his Russian idols.

"I don't understand. I was thinking is that some kind of joke or something," Grigorenko told me. "I'm really shocked. He's my favorite player in the NHL. He's a really good player and I was hoping he would keep playing in the NHL."

Prospect haul given huge nod by Hockey Prospectus

By Mike Harrington

Just as the Sabres' annual development camp hits the ice Wednesday in First Niagara Center comes the annual organizational ratings from Hockey Prospectus and, for once, Sabres fans have some good news: Buffalo is currently listed as the No. 3 organization for its cadre of young players. 

The rankings are for non-NHL players only -- or players who have appeared in fewer than 25 games last season or 50 in their careers.

Author Corey Pronman admits the Sabres would have been slightly lower had Mikhail Grigorenko played one more NHL game and thus lost "prospect" status by playing more than 25 games, but says the Sabres have drafted so well in 2012 and 2013 the ranking would have been high anyway. He called the 2013 draft class "exceptional." Like many hockey observers, Prospectus loved the Jason Pominville trade that brought Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and now, Nikita Zadorov.

Now it's all about getting these players to develop at the NHL level -- and for the NHL guys to not go belly-up once they hit Buffalo. No small task.

Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders were rated ahead of Buffalo, with Anaheim and Florida right behind. The bottom five were San Jose, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Sabres don't expect to make big splash in free agency; Grigorenko will spend all next season in Buffalo

By John Vogl

The Sabres have tried to make a big splash in free agency since Terry Pegula took over the team. It appears that trend will change.

General Manager Darcy Regier said today that Buffalo's prime targets in free agency, which opens Friday, will be players who can complement the current roster rather than headline it.

"The focus is going to be on supporting this younger group, this younger core group," Regier said in First Niagara Center. "Certainly, you want good players, but you want players who are committed to being professionals, being examples, being contributors. Those are the most important characteristics and the most important things we can do organizationally to make sure we progress in the direction we need to go."

Regier said the trade market has begun to form as the NHL heads toward its shopping season, and Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller remain available.

"I’m actively finding out what the marketplace is like, not limited to those two players," Regier said. "There will be a number of teams we’ll speak to regarding not just the goaltending position but other positions, as well."

In other news:

Continue reading "Sabres don't expect to make big splash in free agency; Grigorenko will spend all next season in Buffalo" »

It was about the playoffs for Amerks, and several Sabres prospects showed well

By John Vogl

Despite a key talking point lately, it is in fact about the playoffs. It's the best hockey of the year, and players build or enhance their reputations during the postseason.

Zemgus Girgensons sure did.

The 19-year-old had an non-descript regular season in Rochester, but he was the Amerks' best player as the team lost all three games to Toronto. (Read all about him here.)

“Best player on the team. Best player on the ice,” said Amerks forward Cody McCormick, the former Sabres tough guy who was no slouch himself against the Marlies.

Continue reading "It was about the playoffs for Amerks, and several Sabres prospects showed well" »

Grigorenko focused on Penguins with probable trip to Amerks in the background

By John Vogl

PITTSBURGH -- Mikhail Grigorenko had a laptop by his side today, and he was studying clips of his return to the Sabres' lineup. It was a solid re-debut Monday, with the center putting up one shot in 15:18 of ice time while winning 9 of 15 faceoffs against the Jets. He'll look to improve on the performance tonight against the Penguins in Consol Energy Center.

After Friday's season finale, it appears the Sabres' top prospect will join his fourth team this season. The Rochester Amerks start the AHL playoffs this weekend, and Grigorenko is expected to report.

Continue reading "Grigorenko focused on Penguins with probable trip to Amerks in the background" »

Grigorenko set to return for Sabres, who want to see what he'll bring in final three games

By John Vogl

Mihkail Grigorenko has been waiting for another shot at the NHL, and he's going to get it Monday.

The Sabres' prospect, who hasn't played for Buffalo since March 12, will be in the lineup when the Sabres host Winnipeg. Patrick Kaleta is out after getting hurt blocking a shot Friday, and the injury will give Grigorenko three games to show what he's learned during a whirlwind season.

"I was thinking about this," Grigorenko said today after practice in First Niagara Center. "I’m ready to play."

Continue reading "Grigorenko set to return for Sabres, who want to see what he'll bring in final three games" »

Bruins, Sabres hope to ease pain in Boston; Miller to return to Buffalo net

By John Vogl

BOSTON -- The pain caused by the Boston Marathon explosions will linger for awhile. The Sabres and Bruins hope they can ease it for a couple of hours.

The teams will face off in TD Garden tonight in Boston's first sporting event since the act of terror that marred Monday's race. The Bruins are expected to memorialize the three people who died and 176 who were wounded when a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line of the legendary marathon.

"I’m sure it will be full of emotions after obviously what happened on Monday," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said after the morning skate. "Your thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that was affected, and hopefully we can go out and play hard for the city of Boston.

Continue reading "Bruins, Sabres hope to ease pain in Boston; Miller to return to Buffalo net" »

Sabres planning for Boston trip; Grigorenko on ice

By Mike Harrington

A quick Sabres update from First Niagara Center: Practice has opened as scheduled at 10:30 a.m., the normal time when the team is planning a flight. The plane to Boston is supposed to leave at 3 p.m. and there is no indication of any change in the schedule for tomorrow's game against the Bruins at 7:30 in TD Garden in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

In roster news, Mikhail Grigorenko is on the ice at practice today but there is no decision yet from the Sabres whether he will be going to Boston or is simply here working out and getting ready to go to Rochester.

More updates, of course, after practice is complete.

Getting immediate shot with Sabres was part of deal with Ruhwedel, Regier says; Grigorenko coming back to organization

By John Vogl

The competition for college free agents can be fierce, especially when they have the talent to become All-American defensemen. NHL clubs need to add special incentives to get deals done, which how the Sabres got Chad Ruhwedel.

The team signed the much-lauded D-man from UMass Lowell to a two-year contract today, and Ruhwedel will make his debut this afternoon against Philadelphia.

The promise of playing time lured Ruhwedel.

"It’s what you have to do to get the player signed now," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said outside First Niagara Center. "You have to make a commitment to put him on your roster, and so you have to have a comfort level with them playing some games here. That’s really part of the package.

Continue reading "Getting immediate shot with Sabres was part of deal with Ruhwedel, Regier says; Grigorenko coming back to organization" »

Grigorenko: 'Playing five minutes per game is not enough for anyone'

Grigo
Mikhail Grigorenko and his girlfriend arrive at the airport in Quebec on Saturday. (Le Soleil photo)



By Mike Harrington

WASHINGTON -- We'll be heading over to the Verizon Center in a couple of hours for the Sabres' morning skate and to preview the expected return of Patrick Kaleta to the lineup tonight against the Capitals. Saw through Twitter a link to a story on Mikhail Grigorenko's return to Quebec (his lone remaining regular season game is this afternoon), and there's some pretty interesting French translation.

Here's the story that appears in today's editions of La Presse (and thanks to the handy-dandy Google Translate from the French).

In the story, Grigorenko is gracious to the Sabres for the chance to play in the NHL, to veterans like Jason Pominville and Steve Ott for helping him through the season. He revels in the fact he got to play against the likes of Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Continue reading "Grigorenko: 'Playing five minutes per game is not enough for anyone'" »

Rolston on Grigorenko: 'The best thing for him would be to go play in the playoffs'

By Mike Harrington

During his pregame briefing with reporters today prior to the 3 p.m. faceoff against Ottawa, Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston made it pretty clear that the team's place near the bottom of the Eastern Conference was a key reason that T.J. Brennan was traded yesterday to Florida and Mikhail Grigorenko was shipped back to the Quebec Remparts. You want a firesale? The Sabres still seem to be shooting for eighth place.

"With where we were at as a team, it was difficult to give him an opportunity that he probably needed developmentally," Rolston said when asked about Grigorenko. "For our organization right now, the best thing for him would be to go play in the [Quebec League] playoffs get playoff experience, really be a really big part of that team and be in every situation."

Brennan couldn't find any ice time either and was dealt to Florida, where he will be reunited with Kevin Dineen, his former coach in Portland.

Continue reading "Rolston on Grigorenko: 'The best thing for him would be to go play in the playoffs'" »

Audio: Regier speaks about Grigorenko, not being in 'blow-it-up mind-set' regarding trades

By John Vogl

Mikhail Grigorenko just wasn't ready for big minutes with the Sabres, so General Manager Darcy Regier decided today the rookie center was better off getting prime ice time in the playoffs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Sabres have sent the 18-year-old back to the Quebec Remparts, but Regier feels Grigorenko learned a lot about what he needs to do to be an NHL player, which should benefit his future.

"I think this has been a very good thing," Regier said about Grigorenko's NHL debut season.

With the Sabres near the bottom of the NHL and the trade deadline approaching April 3, Regier said the team needs to find a way to acquire more good players. But ...

"I'm not in a blow-it-up mind-set," Regier said.

To hear all his thoughts, click the audio file below.

Sabres send Grigorenko back to Quebec junior league

By John Vogl

Mikhail Grigorenko's time in the NHL is up for now.

The Sabres have sent the rookie back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The move came less than an hour after a member of the Quebec Remparts told The News there had been no discussions between the Sabres and Remparts about Grigorenko returning.

"It is big news and big surprise for us," said a Remparts spokesman.

After a solid tryout period, Grigorenko became a spare part for the Sabres. He averaged 9:44 of ice time during his 22 games and recorded one goal and five points with a minus-2 rating.

The Remparts have just two regular-season games remaining before starting the playoffs. They are sixth in the 18-team league.

Early in the season, the Sabres debated whether to keep Grigorenko and use the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to Quebec. They decided to keep the 18-year-old, who now has two years left on his deal.

The grooming of Grigo: Back on the ice tonight

By Mike Harrington

After sitting out three games as a healthy scratch, Mikhail Grigorenko is back in the Sabres' lineup tonight. As he should be.

If the Sabres are going to miss the playoffs this year, the No. 1 draft pick should play. I want to see 12-14 minutes a game and some power play time. Not this fourth-line garbage. Even if the team starts to improve, Grigorenko should be seeing time over some veterans (see Hecht, Jochen).

Seems like interim coach Ron Rolston agrees.

"When we put him in there, we want him to be playing with some players that he can play with and make plays and build confidence," Rolston said today. 

Continue reading "The grooming of Grigo: Back on the ice tonight" »

With one win down, Sabres look toward Pittsburgh

By John Vogl

It was only one win, but it obviously meant a lot to the Sabres. They beat Boston on Friday night, and they were still riding the wave today at practice.

Guys were more talkative on the ice in First Niagara Center. They cheered their teammates during a session-ending shootout drill. They loudly complimented their goalies for big saves during the breakaways.

Yes, winning feels good. Now they just have to do it again.

Continue reading "With one win down, Sabres look toward Pittsburgh" »

The grooming of Grigorenko uses Bruins' Seguin as a model

Seguin
Tyler Seguin celebrates his goal last week in Montreal. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Lindy Ruff has made several references this year to the Sabres' plan of using Mikhail Grigorenko as being similar to what the Bruins did during the 2010-11 season with winger Tyler Seguin.

Two years ago, a season he began at age 18, Seguin was a healthy scratch seven times during the regular season and scored 11 goals. But he really produced in the playoffs with a couple key goals in the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa -- and those came after he was scratched for every game in the first two rounds against Montreal and Philadelphia.

Last year, Seguin burst on the scene with 29 goals, 67 points and a plus-34 rating. So far this year, he hasn't been as good (two goals, six points, plus-8 in 11 games) but he still plays 17:46 a night.

I asked Boston coach Claude Julien today about the process of massaging young players through the early travails of their career and he said the Bruins had a distinct plan in mind.

Continue reading "The grooming of Grigorenko uses Bruins' Seguin as a model" »

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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