BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Sabres rookie centre Mikhail Grigorenko will be reporting to his Canadian Junior Hockey League team after all.
The Sabres announced on their Twitter account on Sunday night that Grigorenko has informed them that he will report to Quebec City. The decision comes a day after the team’s 2012 first-round draft pick balked at being demoted, saying he wanted to take time to “think about my career.”
Grigorenko’s agent, Jay Grossman, told The Associated Press his client agreed to report to the Remparts after lengthy discussions with Sabres president Pat LaFontaine and newly hired general manager Tim Murray.
“It’s safe to say we’ve had serious concerns about his development process and that was warranted,” Grossman said. “We felt it was important for the Sabres to look more carefully at his development and that we had these kinds of conversations that were necessary so that we were on the same page going forward with respect to his development.”
Grossman called the discussions positive, and was pleased to have a chance to air his concerns directly with Murray, who was hired on Thursday. Murray, the former Ottawa Senators assistant general manager, took over in Buffalo after GM Darcy Regier was fired in November.
“The hope is that with him being assigned outside the organization that they were going to monitor his progress,” Grossman said. “I think time will tell. I think that it’s obviously the player’s responsibility, which he surely is willing to take on to work hard and to continue to develop his game.”
Grigorenko has had difficulty finding a niche in Buffalo since the Sabres selected the Russian-born player with the 12th pick in the 2012 draft. He has three goals and five assists in 43 career games with the Sabres, including two goals and an assist in 18 games this season.
The lack of production can in part be tied to Grigorenko being on his seventh coach in two years, including his third in Buffalo since Ted Nolan took over in November after Ron Rolston was fired.
The 19-year-old has also spent the past calendar year hop-scotching teams in four cities, three countries and two continents.
Grigorenko opened last season in Quebec City before making the Sabres’ roster coming out of the NHL lockout in January. He lasted only two months in Buffalo before being sent back to Quebec City in March, and then finished the season playing for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate in Rochester.
His career path has been just as muddled this season. Grigorenko opened the year in Buffalo, but once again had difficulty earning regular playing time. The Sabres attempted to demote him to Rochester, but the move was blocked by the NHL because he still has eligibility to play in Quebec.
Last month, the Sabres loaned Grigorenko to the Russian junior national team to compete in the World Junior tournament in Sweden.
After helping Russia win a bronze medal two weeks ago, Grigorenko found himself once again in limbo once he rejoined the Sabres last week.
The team was left with only two options, either keeping Grigorenko in Buffalo or returning him to Quebec City.
Both Nolan and LaFontaine spoke at length with Grigorenko before informing him that they were going to return him to Quebec City on Saturday.
Grigorenko’s initial decision to not report caught the Sabres by surprise, Nolan said on Sunday before the Sabres’ 2-1 shootout win at Washington.
“We knew obviously players would be disappointed when something like that happened,” Nolan said, “but no indication that he wouldn’t report.”
The Sabres would prefer to have Grigorenko develop in the AHL, but understand that won’t be an option until next year.
“P.K. Subban played four years in Belleville, and he turned out pretty good,” Nolan said of the Montreal Canadiens defenceman. “Junior hockey’s a good place to develop.”
The issue is that Grigorenko is into the second year of his rookie three-year contract. And there are concerns that the Sabres have mishandled Grigorenko’s development, which is something that could jeopardize his future with the team once his contract expires.
In a message posted on Facebook on Saturday, Grigorenko apologized for “the situation” he found himself in.
“We just need to find a place for me where I can develop and be the best hockey player I can be,” he added. “Now I would just ask all of you guys to respect me and the time I’m taking to think about my career. It might be hard to understand, but it is even harder for a teenager.”
Grigorenko has played well in previous stints in juniors, posting 139 points in two seasons with Quebec, including 30 goals in 33 games last season.