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Seamless transition to North America for Grigorenko

by Adam Kimelman
He hasn't been in North America for all that long, but Mikhail Grigorenko has proven he's a quick learner.

Whether it's adjusting to a new style of hockey with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League or adapting to a new culture, Grigorenko has done a stellar job.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound center led all first-year players in the league in goals and points, and was second in regular-season assists. His 40 goals tied for fifth among all players, and he tied for eighth with 85 points despite playing just 59 games, the fewest of any player in the top 10.

He's No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American skaters.

Grigorenko not alone

Mikhail Grigorenko said he knew prior to last season that he wanted to spend the 2011-12 season learning the North American style of play.

Grigorenko landed with the Quebec Remparts, who made him the second pick of the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft in July 2011.

On the ice the transition has been seamless, as he led all QMJHL rookies in goals and points, and finished in the top 10 in league scoring.

Off the ice, he's also done well, learning English well enough to conduct interviews without a translator.

"When I arrived here I didn't speak English," he told "I have some courses and I have a teacher in Quebec; she's Russian, so it's really easy for me. I have five days of English (classes)."

His mother also has been with him all season.

"We have an apartment there (in Quebec City)," he said. "It's really good because sometimes after a bad game or something, she hugs me and tells me something good. It's really good for me."

Also helping is his older brother, Yuri, who played in the minor leagues in Russia and Belarus for five seasons.

"He helps me a lot," said Grigorenko. "He's my best friend. He always helps me in hockey. He really understands hockey. When I arrived I didn't play well the first game so he helped me. He told me what I have to do to improve myself."

Whatever advice Grigorenko received, it's certainly worked.

-- Adam Kimelman
"The size, the puck handling … I think the kid's pretty good," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told "I've seen him work hard and do some things on the ice that most people don't notice."

Helping Grigorenko round out his game has been Quebec coach Patrick Roy.

"He's a hard-working individual, both on and off the ice," Roy told "He is willing to learn the North American game in order to reach the NHL and have an impact. … He's got extremely good vision and he is a great passer. He can see and execute plays under pressure."

"Patrick always helps me on the ice," said Grigorenko. "He knows what I have to do. … He's a great person. He's always talking to the guys, he's funny off the ice. On the ice, he's really tough and a really good coach. He gives help to everyone. Now I think we have a really good team. And it's just because of Patrick."

Grigorenko has grown on his own off the ice in getting used to life in Quebec City.

"When I arrived here I didn't speak English," he said. "I have some courses and I have a teacher in Quebec; she's Russian, so it's really easy for me. I have five days of English (classes)."

It's paid off as Grigorenko handled himself fine in English-language media interviews at the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, B.C., this past month.

Roy liked Grigorenko enough to trade up in the first round of this past summer's Canadian Hockey League Import Draft to select Grigorenko with the No. 2 pick.

"He was the type of dominant player we wanted on our team," said Roy. "We moved up to the 11th spot, and then knew we had to move up some more. We gave up a lot, but got a high reward in return."

As excited as Roy was to land Grigorenko, the native of Khabarovsk, Russia, was happy to come to North America.

"I just wanted to play in the NHL and I think the CHL is a really good step before the NHL," said Grigorenko. "I just said to my agent, I want to go to the CHL and he found me a team. He told me the Quebec Remparts (are) really good."

Grigorenko also has shown how good he can be.

In addition to his outstanding season with the Remparts, he had two goals and three assists in six games to help Russia win the silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship. And he did it at less than 100 percent due to an injury to his left ankle suffered during a preliminary-round game against Latvia.

"We played against Latvia and it was a bad first pass from my 'D' and I didn't see the guy who hit me," said Grigorenko. "I saw him at like the last moment. I just went out from him and he pushed me and my leg was twisted."

He sat out Russia's final preliminary-round game, against Sweden, but returned in time for the medal round. He set up what ended up being the game-winning goal against Canada in the semifinals, but he was on the ice in overtime of the gold-medal game when Mika Zibanejad scored to give Sweden the gold medal.


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"I wasn't 100 percent but I think I played well without the puck," Grigorenko said of his tournament experience. "I didn't want to score a goal or do something with the puck, just tried to play for my team, just stay in my zone and help my 'D.' I think I did really well."

Improving his play in his zone has been a big goal this season. And while Grigorenko likely won't ever be confused with legendary two-way forward Bob Gainey, he's working to get better.

"It's not so good but it's really, really better," said Grigorenko. "Last year I couldn't play in my zone. I didn't understand what was going on. But Patrick has helped me a lot. I understand what I have to do."

Roy said he's seen improvement.

"He is improving his defensive game in the (defensive) zone," said Roy. "Things like boxing out and tracking."

Grigorenko knows he will be in high demand as the NHL Draft approaches, but he's trying to block that out and focus on the QMJHL playoffs.

"When I'm on the ice, I'm just playing hockey," said Grigorenko. "I don't think about (the draft). Maybe after the game, off the ice, I'll sometimes think about this or the rankings. But it's something that's not so important."

Roy said watching Grigorenko reminds him a bit of Pittsburgh Penguins MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin stayed an extra season in Russia after he was drafted, and Roy believes that could be the best route for Grigorenko.

"It depends on the team that drafts him," said Roy. "He has the size and vision. If we get him back one more year, he will be even more prepared."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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