Mikhail Grigorenko has seen his name slipping on the various draft rankings, he's heard the criticism lobbed in his direction and he's not the least bit surprised.
No, after a subpar performance in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs for the Quebec Remparts -- one where he produced just three points in a seven-game loss to the Halifax Mooseheads in the second round -- Grigorenko says the criticism and fading draft hype was to be expected.
"I was waiting for this," Grigorenko, 18, said after being named the Canadian Hockey League's BMO Rookie of the Year. "Before the (final) ratings I understood where I would be because during the season I had good games and I was first or second, but after I had a bad playoffs and I went down."
His coach in Quebec City, Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, was proud of the recognition given to Grigorenko's first season of hockey on North American soil.
"This is a well-deserved award for a hard-working athlete," Roy said in a statement. "Mikhail Grigorenko is an impactful player with a grade-A attitude. The Remparts organization is quite proud of his accomplishment."
The big, skilled Russian center has not been getting the same kind of recognition from scouts of late. He slipped from second to third among North American skaters on the final NHL Central Scouting Bureau ranking list, but some of the other major scouting services have downgraded Grigorenko even further.
Grigorenko's three points in the second round of the playoffs represented his worst seven-game stretch all season. While he readily admits his production was insufficient in that loss to the Mooseheads -- one in which the Remparts blew a 3-0 series lead and a 3-1 second period lead in Game 7 -- Grigorenko did indeed have a reason he was kept completely off the scoresheet over the final two games.
He was later diagnosed with a case of mononucleosis, and the initial symptoms began appearing before Game 6.
"The last two games I had fever during the night, I couldn't sleep," Grigorenko explained. "It wasn't mono, but it started there, I think."
Grigorenko said he is fully recovered from the illness, one that prevented him from eating regularly, and thus resulted in significant weight loss. He will be attending the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto this week but won't be participating in any of the physical testing because he has not yet been cleared to begin training. But the combine will afford Grigorenko an opportunity to meet with the clubs and defend himself from some of the criticism he's been receiving, and also assure them of his intentions to play in the NHL.
"I know a lot of people think with the Russian factor I may want to go play in the KHL, so I want to go meet the teams, show them who I am and that I want to play in the NHL," Grigorenko said. "In the KHL it's hard to prepare yourself for the NHL. The NHL was my dream and that's why I came here, because I knew I would be more ready for the NHL."
Grigorenko said this first season playing in North America has been a tremendous learning experience. Under Roy's tutelage in Quebec City, Grigorenko says he learned to become a more complete player by developing his defensive game away from the puck, something he says he never even thought about before this season.
But he also learned how to deal with some adversity.
During the World Junior Championships in Alberta, Grigorenko injured his ankle during a 14-0 win for Team Russia against Latvia. He had two goals and two assists in three games when he was hurt, but earned just one assist in three games afterwards as he tried to play through the injury. That performance, like the one in the playoffs for the Remparts, has drawn some criticism from scouts in spite of the mitigating factor of the ankle injury.
Upon his return to Quebec City, Grigorenko was forced to sit out six games to allow the ankle to heal properly. He said it was the first time in his life he's ever had to miss a single game due to injury, and it was a difficult adjustment for him to make.
"After I got injured it was harder to play, because I've never had injuries before," Grigorenko said. "At the World Juniors I got it, and after it was harder to play because some guys would just slash me on my injury and it was a target for them. It was something that I never had, but now I learned it and next time it happens I will know what to do."
Grigorenko will get an opportunity to share some of his other learning experiences with the 30 NHL clubs in Toronto this week, but he's already gotten a head start. He says he met two weeks ago with the Edmonton Oilers -- who are picking first in the 2012 NHL Draft -- and he also met with Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, who holds the second pick.
When he was asked to give the reasons why he should be taken first overall instead of the consensus number one prospect, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting, Grigorenko said he'd already practiced his answer to the question.
"Edmonton asked me this question," he said with a smile. "They asked me, me or Yakupov? I said Yakupov is an amazing player, and for sure it depends on them, but I can say that I'm a player who can play with the team, I'm a team player. I will do everything the coach will tell me to do."
Even though Grigorenko's draft stock has fallen somewhat, at 6-foot-2, 191 pounds and still growing, he represents the mythical big, skilled center that every NHL club covets, and he hopes that parlays itself into a nice surprise on June 22 at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
"I hope I will be (drafted) high, or the highest guy," he said. "I hope I will be first."
Author: Arpon Basu | NHL.com Correspondent