“Tonight was also good in one way in that some guys made decisions very easy.”
Those words from Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan after Friday’s 5-1 loss in Carolina to close out the preseason should have been met with a shiver by players who were fighting to stay on this team.
Then again, if the coach was being that candid with his comments that quickly after a game, said players probably already knew that they didn’t deliver what was expected of them.
Of course, one game does not a preseason make. Now – after two weeks of camp – is when the full evaluation takes place. This will allow management to have the 23-man active roster set by Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Nolan was happy with how camp went overall and how could he not be?
Here we are asking this question: Has 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko earned himself a spot on the opening night roster?
That thought never crossed my mind in the summer or when camp began.
But regardless of his point totals (1-1-2 in five games played), it was his 200-foot game and his maturity that has seen the most dramatic improvement.
Skating is obviously a significant part of that, allowing himself to be in better position in all three zones. But he seems to have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a pro.
Common sense right? Don’t most of us learn a lot (sometimes painfully so) between the ages of 18 and 20?
The bigger question though is what’s best for Grigorenko long term in order to keep him heading in the right direction on this sharp learning curve?
Chadd Cassidy could certainly use a full 76 games from him to propel the Rochester Americans further than they’ve been in recent years.
But if Grigorenko does head to the American Hockey League and Sam Reinhart is sent back to Kootenay of the Western Hockey League (more on Reinhart in a minute) how would the forward lines look?
Here’s an example with Grigorenko:
Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson – Grigorenko – Chris Stewart
Marcus Foligno – Zemgus Girgensons – Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers – Cody McCormick – Brian Flynn/Torrey Mitchell
Note: Johan Larsson and Patrick Kaleta are currently injured.
And an example without Grigorenko:
What’s interesting, yet probably shouldn’t be surprising (based on age/experience etc.) is that Grigorenko over the past two weeks has looked more polished than Reinhart.
That’s not to say Reinhart (1-0-1 in five games played) has done anything wrong or hasn’t progressed. Because he has. But if the camp was about earning a spot, I’d have to say that Grigorenko likely has a leg up on Reinhart, the second overall selection in this year’s draft.
But if the camp was more about finding out what is truly best for the development of all, perhaps it’s best to assign Grigorenko to Rochester, expect a solid year from him and call him up when injuries hit and/or the situation warrants it.
Meanwhile, in the short term, consider giving Reinhart a longer look – up to nine regular season games – just so he gets a much more accurate understanding of the speed and strength of the NHL game.
These are big time decisions that will impact not only the two players most talked about here, but others who remain on the roster as well.
The blue line also has that youthful element and the questions of how is each player best served now and in the long term.
Mark Pysyk has been hurt so an evaluation of his play is impossible. What we know is that his name has been on the radar since he was a first-round pick in 2010. That said, he has only played 63 NHL regular season games, coupled with 88 in Rochester.
Is he a lock for the Sabres when healthy?
One year younger is Jake McCabe, who turns 21 next week. He tied for the team lead in preseason goals with the pair he produced over a four-game showing. McCabe, a second-round pick in 2012, has progressed nicely from his seven-game NHL audition in the spring as well as the ups and downs we saw from him in Traverse City last month.
Rasmus Ristolainen appears to be a model citizen. Professional in his habits on and off the ice and seemingly a coach’s favorite.
But he won’t be 20 until the end of the month and has just 34 NHL games on his resume.
Fellow 2013 first-round pick Nikita Zadorov had a much publicized benching during a game at the NHL Prospects Tournament last month. He rebounded with a decent camp, but unfortunately finished with a minus-3 rating in last night’s preseason finale.
Zadorov is the only defenseman who can be assigned back to junior (London of the Ontario Hockey League).
So here are some hypotheticals to ponder, keeping in mind that an under the radar bonus of camp was the effective play of 29-year-old Tyson Strachan, who owns 138 games of NHL experience over his seven years as a pro.
Josh Gorges – Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit – Ristolainen
Mike Weber – Andrej Meszaros
Believe me, the home-version of “That 7-D’s Show” is hours of fun. Try it tonight with family and friends. Seriously though, you can see the decisions that lay ahead for Nolan, general manager Tim Murray and company.
Feelings will be hurt, but that’s part of the game. What can’t be broken is the spirit that they are trying to foster and develop.
That’s something Nolan has seen emerging the past two weeks.