BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Buffalo Sabres took a bold approach in addressing their biggest need by stocking up on centres in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night.
After selecting Russian Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th pick, the Sabres made a trade with Calgary to draft Latvian Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th pick. Buffalo sent its second first-round pick, 21st overall, and the first of its two second-round selections, 42nd overall, to the Flames.
Grigorenko, listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, played for Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. He led the league's rookies with 45 goals and 85 points in 59 games despite dealing with an illness at the end of the season.
Girgensons, 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, has spent the past three seasons playing in North America. Last season, his second with Dubuque of the U.S. Hockey League, he led the team with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 49 games, with six of his goals game-winners.
Grigorenko has the potential to be ready to play in the NHL next season. Girgensons has committed to play at Vermont.
The Sabres made no secret of their intention to improve their centre position either in the draft or packaging one or more of their top four draft picks in a trade to acquire an experienced player.
Selecting Grigorenko was a departure in philosophy for the Sabres, who were among several NHL teams that had avoided drafting Russian players in recent years because of a fear of having them stay home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Both general manager Darcy Regier and chief amateur scout Kevin Devine had repeated those concerns earlier this week regarding what assurances they could get from any of the top three Russian prospects available in the draft.
"There are no assurances," Devine said. "No matter what they say, it's very hard to predict."
Grigorenko's stock dropped in the draft, as NHL Central Scouting had him ranked third among North American skaters. One reason he fell was a result of a big run on defencemen. Eight were taken in the first 10 picks.
The Sabres were among the NHL's biggest flops last season in missing the playoffs for the third time in five years. Expectations had been high in Buffalo after the Sabres went on a high-priced shopping spree last off-season in new owner Terry Pegula's bid to build an immediate contender.
Those hopes unraveled due to a rash of injuries and a lack of chemistry. Despite closing the season with a 15-5-4 run, Buffalo dug itself too big of a mid-season hole to climb out of in finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Buffalo owns six picks on Saturday, when rounds 2-7 will be held.