PITTSBURGH -- Nobody knew what to expect from Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine in the first round of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft. With two picks in the first round, and another pair in the second, the duo felt like they had several options to work with. And they weren’t kidding.
Picking in the 12th spot, the Sabres took playmaking center Mikhail Grigorenko from the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. It was a bit of a fall for Grigorenko, who some had predicted would be selected in the top five after scoring 85 points (40+45) in just 59 games during an injury-riddled 2011-12 campaign.
Regier quickly followed that by making a trade with Calgary to acquire their 14th selection, in exchange for Buffalo’s 21st and 42nd picks. Minutes after potentially mining gold with Grigorenko, the Sabres tabbed centerman Zemgus Girgensons of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, a rugged Latvian who put up 44 (19+25) points and 57 penalty minutes last season.
“It’s a good night. The center position is very important not just to us, but around the league too. To acquire two centers – two different types of centers – is good,” said Regier. “Kevin had a list of forwards, and we were focused in on getting two of them. Grigorenko was near the top, and Girgensons was near the top as well. We were pretty sure he wouldn’t be there at 21, so we had to pay a little more to get him.”
Despite being projected to go much higher in the draft, Grigorenko was delighted to be chosen by Buffalo, a team he’d been in contact with several times, including an interview with Sabres management yesterday. Growing up in the same hometown as former Sabres great Alexander Mogilny also made it an extra thrill for the 18-year-old Grigorenko, who referred to Mogilny as “the best Russian who ever played here.”
“I was happy the Buffalo Sabres picked me because I really liked this team. They were really interested in me. I really like this organization so I’m really happy. It was the people there. They were really nice to me and that’s the most important thing.”
Grigorenko, who is described as having quick hands and great hockey sense, was quick to dispel any notion that he’d use the lower than expected pick as motivation.
“It’s just people’s opinions. A lot of other teams didn’t draft me so too bad for them. Now I’m the number one pick for the Buffalo Sabres. I don’t really care about 29 teams. I just care about one team – the Buffalo Sabres. And I want to prove them right; that they made the right choice.”
Devine said Sabres fans will immediately be drawn to Girgensons’ style of play, calling him a “straight ahead kind of guy.”
“The fans of Buffalo will love this guy; he just will not quit. We talked to his coach, and he said that he’s got the leadership qualities of a Jonathan Toews and Mark Messier,” explained Devine. “He really didn’t come on my radar until the World Juniors. He really plays a different kind of game for a Latvian, a skilled game. And he doesn’t have a second gear.”
It was a whirlwind night for Girgensons, who didn’t really know what to expect coming into the draft process.
“I was confused when I came here. There were a lot of teams that had talked to me. From fifth to 20th, I had no clue where I could go. I was happy to get selected at this spot,” said Girgensons, who has committed to the University of Vermont for next season, but is now unsure of his intentions. “I’m a pretty calm person, but this was kind of nerve racking. But I think my family was a little more nervous than me, so that’s a good thing.”
When asked to describe his game, Girgensons confidently gave an answer that will likely leave many Sabres fans salivating to see him in action.
“I’m a skilled power forward, that’s for sure. I love to hit, and I love to score. That’s my game. That’s how I play.”