Russia's Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Kucherov (right) celebrate. (Candian Press)
At the start of the season, it looked like the QMJHL was a two-horse race between the Halifax Mooseheads and the Quebec Remparts. A series of unfortunate circumstances afflicted the Remparts, however. With three good import players and only able to play two, the Remparts had to trade Nikita Kucherov to Rouyn-Noranda, allowing them to play Nick Sorensen and two-way force and No. 12 overall pick Mikhail Grigorenko.
But then came time for the World Juniors, and Grigorenko left Québec to join Team Russia for their bronze medal win in Ufa. In his absence, the Remparts went 3-6. Their record was 22-9 on December 8, but 25-15 when he rejoined the team for a pair of defeats against Chicoutimi and Shawinigan on January 10 and 11.
On January 12, the National Hockey League and its Player's Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding to end the owners lockout after coming to an agreement on January 6. Grigorenko, a highly-touted two-way forward who was described as one of the more NHL-ready players in the draft crop, went to Buffalo to start the shortened season with his NHL club. Now the Remparts were without both Kucherov and Grigorenko.
They didn't necessarily slide, but there was a sting felt in Quebec. At one point looking like the only team that could challenge the Mooseheads, the Remparts have fallen to sixth place in the QMJHL standings. For his part, Grigorenko, who had 50 points in 32 QMJHL games this season, didn't factor in much in Buffalo. He was sparingly used by coach Lindy Ruff who was fired, giving the Sabres a new bench boss for the first time in over a decade. Under Ron Rolston, Grigrenko was never able to get a regular spot in the lineup. Grigorenko played just 22 of 27 Sabres games and just an average of 9:45 of ice-time.
And now the Sabres, well out of contention and needing to go 15-4-2 to make the playoffs, have sent the two-way QMJHL stud back to junior:
#Sabres announce that Mikhail Grigorenko has been shipped back to the QMJHL
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) March 15, 2013
This is a welcome addition to the Remparts, obviously, who have gone just 18-17 (there's no way to quickly adjust for OT losses) since Grigorenko left the team to play for Team Russia. Quebec have been using pickup Anthony Verret and Kurt Etchegary in place of Grigorenko at centre, neither of them point-a-game players.
Grigorenko has played just 32 games but is still the third leading scorer on the team behind rookie Adam Erne and overage Logan Shaw. The Remparts have just two games to go in the regular season, and if Grigorenko can get into the lineup for the team's last game on Sunday against Rimouski, he'd be a welcome addition to the squad well after the trade deadline.
For the Buffalo Sabres, well, by playing him five games, they just burned a year off of Grigorenko's three-year entry-level deal for 214 minutes of ice-time, one goal and four assists. I hope to the managers of a rebuilding Sabres club that those minutes were worth it.
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