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Grigorenko called-up; must earn playing time

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The Red Wings called up rookie forward Igor Grigorenko from Grand Rapids on
Igor Grigorenko beats Lightning goalie Marc Denis to give the Red Wings a 3-2 win in a preseason shootout last month.

The former second round pick in 2001, Grigorenko, who has spent the first three weeks of the season with the team’s AHL affiliate in western Michigan, skated Tuesday morning with the Wings at City Sports Arena.

Grigorenko’s call-up to Detroit was made possible by the delay in the return of Johan Franzen (knee) to the line-up, which won’t likely occur before the end of the month.

In five games with the Griffins, Grigorenko was held without a point. Still, the Red Wings believe that he has tremendous potential at the NHL level.

“He’s in a situation here that’s straightforward,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The bottom line is that the best 20 players get to play. We’re in the winning business. If he’s one of them, great, if he’s not, no problem.”

A big problem for Grigorenko has been the language barrier. His English is extremely limited, and in Grand Rapids, he was the lone Russian on the Griffins’ roster.

At least in Detroit, he has countryman Pavel Datsyuk to help interpret.

“He won’t be alone without a translator (like) in Grand Rapids,” Datsyuk said. “He’ll get lots of practice here. He has good hands, but he needs to get a lot faster. It’s a little bit more harder for him after the accident. Before then he skated well. Now he needs to come back, but every year he gets better for sure.”

Grigorenko, 24, was involved in a near-fatal auto accident two years after the Red Wings selected him with the 64nd overall pick in 2001. The accident left him with fractures throughout his left leg.
Asked if he thought Grigorenko is in better physical condition then when he arrived for training camp last month, Babcock said, “He’s probably in better shape than he was. We’ll see and I’ll keep watching.”

As for cracking the line-up, Grigorenko will be competing with fourth line forwards Matt Ellis and Aaron Downey for ice time. Babcock indicated that Grigorenko must earn playing time, just as others have done.

“If someone has a bad game and someone is working their butt off, they’re the first one in – absolutely,” he said. “Ellis has gone from a guy who played very little to not dressing to playing to playing well to having three or four points and being a plus-four. It’s called a work ethic.
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