Thursday, August 16, 2012

Russia/Canada Challenge ends

A four game series between Russia and Canada wrapped up on Tuesday. Of importance to Sabreland is the play of 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was on the top line with 2012 #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov (EDM) and fellow 2012 pick Anton Zlobin (#173 overall, PIT.)

Kris Baker of followed the series throughout as the 6'3" pivot and his fellow Russians took on a loaded Canadian team.

Grigorenko didn't fare too well--0 goals, 1 assist--in the four game series. He looked winded at times, was cautious often and seemed to be thinking an awful lot. Not the fleetest of foot, he also looked slow to average at best skating up and down the ice.

Cause for concern?

Not really. Early in the series his linemate, Yakupov, seemed intent upon doing his best Alex Ovechkin/Pavel Bure impersonation. Not a lot of chemistry between the two. Linemate Zlobin was playing on his off-wing and just looked out of place with the two first-rounders.

That line also saw a heavy dose of Canada's top checking line lead by 2012 Winnipeg Jets draft pick, Luke Sutter (2nd-round, #39 overall.)

In a harbinger of what's to come in the NHL, Sutter and Co. bottled them up throughout with relentless, tight checking and deft stick work.

Whether or not motivation played a factor in Grigorenko's lack of production is to be determined as the challenge was nothing more than a showcase, but the kid may need to spend another year in junior to hone his skills and build up his strength. It's a long NHL season and a top-line player will see the best checking forwards, those intent upon making life miserable for them.

Speaking of showcase. Baker also tweeted that Russian goalie Andrey Makarov has accepted an invitation to Sabres training camp.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier was in Halifax Nova Scotia taking in the event and apparently liked what he saw in a 6-5 Russia win with Makarov in net. He wasn't the only one either. Despite giving up five goals in that game, Makarov was voted 1st star as he faced over 40 shots, many of the golden opportunity variety.

As of now, the Sabres goalie depth is depleted on the junior/college level with the pro contracts of Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp.

2012 6th-rounder Linus Ullmark helps fill the void, but there's room for another junior and Makarov will get his opportunity.

From thehockeywriters Final Impressions of The Challenge:
Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres, 12th in 2012) – Russia’s Grigorenko certainly did not shake the critics with is wildly inconsistent play. Skating alongside Nail Yakupov and Penguins’ prospect Anton Zlobin, Grigorenko and company were expected to lead this team offensively. The line was matched up against Canada’s top shutdown line but Grigorenko, once again, failed to elevate his game when it mattered the most as he was virtually invisible in the critical game four. Grigorenko certainly showed that he is extremely gifted with his ability to create offense using elite vision and power puck distribution game but inconsistency continues to overshadow his unique talents. Unless Grigorenko finds another gear at Sabres’ camp, Mikhail will be available for Russia’s 2013 WJC team and look to be counted upon to “step up”.
Andrey Makarov (undrafted) – The undrafted Andrey Makarov continues to prove that he is an elite goaltender prospect. Despite coming to Canada to chase his NHL dream and succeeding in the WHL, Andrey Makarov was passed over by thirty NHL teams for the second time in as many years. Internationally, Makarov has owned Canada and that was clear once again as Russia won both games with Makarov as the starter. He’s a netminder that shows great poise and with his strong positioning he is difficult to beat on the first shot.
Stat Line: 2GP – 2W – 74 SVS – 4.00 GAA – .902 SV%

Via, you can check out every Grigorenko shift through the hard work of Baker's friend, James:

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

Game 4

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