The Journey – Kuznetsov and Grigorenko
A couple of prospects that have long been intriguing names in fantasy hockey – Kuznetsov and Grigorenko
I hope everyone had a stellar Easter and you are all enjoying the NHL playoffs as we speak. These have been some of the best playoff games in recent memory and I for one am loving it. Getting back on track, this week The Journey is going to take a look at two Russian super-prospects. Here are, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Rights: Washington Capitals
Drafted in the 1st round (26th overall) in 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
RW, 6' 3", 187lbs
Hometown: Chelyabinsk, Russia
One thing I notice right away about Kuznetsov is his maturity. He seems to be very comfortable in his own skin for a 21-year-old. It had been a waiting game for the super-prospect to come to the NHL ever since he was selected 26th overall in 2010 by the Capitals. The youngster was turning in stellar performances for his KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, who he led in scoring for three straight seasons. When he arrived in Washington he saw time on every line and played with nearly every player on the roster as the coach searched for some chemistry. In the end Kuznetsov would score nine points in 17 NHL games before the Caps were eliminated from the playoff picture and would go on to miss the postseason by four points.
With so many changes going on in Washington it is hard to say where Kuznetsov will play when the season gets going again. Clearly one would have to think he sees time on the top two lines but nothing is set in stone. If Ovechkin is Washington's version of Sidney Crosby then Kuznetsov is their Malkin. In fact, the young Russian has been compared to the Penguins center on numerous occasions. He's big, smart with the puck and when he wants to control the play, his determination is second to none.
If for some reason he isn't owned in your league, go get him. Chances are he's looong gone. Kuznetsov is fantasy relevant now and it shouldn't be long before he takes his place among the elite in the NHL. Yes, he is just that good. No surprises with this guy, we have known what he is capable of for some time now. It's time to sit back and reap the rewards if you are one of the owners who grabbed him despite the KHL issue. If you didn't, it's time to start fearing another Russian.
First line upside with ability to produce 80-90 point season's in the not too distant future.
Next up let's take a look at Mikhail Grigorenko.
Rights: Buffalo Sabres
Drafted in the 1st round 12th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
RW, 6'2", 191lbs
Hometown: Khabarovsk, Russia
Possibly the most mismanaged prospect in hockey right now, Grigorenko has had a couple of tough years to endure since his stock slipped to 12th overall in 2012. At one time projected in the top 5 of the 2012 draft, Grigorenko received criticism on his compete level, commitment level and even his heart. He was compared to such players as Alex Kovalev who was well known for flashing absolute brilliance one moment and the next seen filing his nails on the end of the bench during overtime. (Clearly an exaggeration)
The belief in Grigorenko's question marks coupled with the building fear of top Russian prospects skipping out on the NHL's entry level restrictions and opting for the big dollars of the KHL were worrisome enough that it saw him fall from the 2nd overall ranking at mid-season, to 12th where Buffalo snagged him. He was then vaulted to the NHL right away as the Sabres obviously thought they had a steal with the Russian winger. Looking at his junior numbers, who wouldn't? Perhaps the Sabres succumbed to the fear that if they didn't promote the youngster right away they may lose him to the KHL.
Figure this one out:
-11/12 – 85 points in 55 games in QMJHL
*CHL Rookie of the Year
-12/13 – 54 points in 33 QMJHL games
*Joined Sabres after NHL lockout ended
-12/13 – 25 NHL games = 1-4-5 (sent back to junior)
-13/14 – 18 NHL games = 2-1-3 (sent back to junior)
-13/14 – 39 points in 23 QMJHL games
–13/14 – 9 AHL games = 4 points
The final nine games played in the AHL are an indication to me that this is where he needs to be. Obviously he's too good for junior and was from the get-go but not every player is mentally ready for the jump to pro. Even if they think they are, as in Grigorenko's case. If it wasn't for the age restriction on NHL entry level players, Grigorenko would have played in the AHL a year ago and avoided another lost season. Things should even out under new Sabres leadership.
Don't Mikhail it a bigger deal than it is
If you set aside the lofty expectations and just look at him as the top prospect he is, you'll see that Grigorenko is right on pace to be where he should be. He didn't go in the top five picks and shouldn't be treated like he did. If the Sabres are able to avoid the temptation to start him in the NHL out of camp again, then this could be the start of something special. Given a year to adjust in the AHL Grigorenko could get to where everyone has expected him to be for two years now. If he progresses at a pace deserved of an NHL call-up (see Ryan Strome) then so be it. They really need to let this kid grow into the star he can be. If they continue to rush him there is no gain for anyone involved.
There is one pink elephant in the room. Because of Grigorenko signing before he was actually ready to play in the NHL, the Sabres are faced with the fact that their time is running out. Grig is an RFA in July and given his attitude to being sent down previously, he may not be willing to re-sign unless given the chance to be a full time NHL player.
That would mean KHL since I can't see any NHL team ponying up an offer sheet. Since he chose to play his junior hockey in Canada and so far hasn't shown any signs of bolting for the KHL, I would have to think that Grigorenko wants to play in the NHL above any other league. (KHL included) If he were to bolt for Russia it would no doubt bring an end to that dream. I don't see that coming to fruition.
The Sabres do have a real problem on their hands though if Grig doesn't play himself into the NHL in 2014-15. He will no doubt want a substantial raise for his second contract. Buffalo is certainly not hurting for cap space but if they look at Grigorenko as a long term piece then this contract is very important as it will set the pace for the player's future dollars. Vault him up the scale too soon and they will pay for it down the road when they are a cap team and can`t afford their Russian star anymore. Value is too low IMO to trade Grig before his contract expires. They`d never get a reasonable return. Murray has his work cut out for him.
Grigorenko has the potential to be a top fantasy player, the question is when. The coming year will go a long way to show when we can expect to see him emerge with fantasy relevance. If you already have him on your team it is going to be a tough call to keep him. However, is his value high enough to warrant a trade? Likely not, so a drop? I wouldn't. Hang in there, Grig should be putting up fantasy relevant numbers as soon as 2015-16. Give him this season to develop into a full time professional. He may get some games in Buffalo too but I would say 2015-16 for full time duty.
Top six upside with a point per game average will be reachable but it is more likely he settles in at around 65-70 points with an occasional spiked up season sprinkled in here and there. Think Alex Kovalev.
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