Toronto Maple Leafs Rumored to be Courting Another Russian Star

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 21: Mikhail Grigorenko #25 of the Colorado Avalanche takes a shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Pepsi Center on December 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Maple Leafs defeated the Avalanche 7-4. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 21: Mikhail Grigorenko #25 of the Colorado Avalanche takes a shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Pepsi Center on December 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Maple Leafs defeated the Avalanche 7-4. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

The Leafs apparently have interest in former top prospect and KHL star Mikhail Grigorenko.

Per Igor Eronko, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas met with forward Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Nikita Nesterov of the KHL.

Both could be excellent additions to the team next year, much like Ilya Mikheyev has been so far this year.

in this post, I will be focusing on Mikhail Grigorenko, but I do plan on tackling Nikita Nesterov fairly soon.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Mikhail Grigorenko

Known most for breaking into the NHL with unbelievable hype at the age of 18, Grigorenko has spent the past two seasons tearing up the KHL with CSKA Moskow.

Now, before we dive into Grigorenko’s most recent stint in the KHL, we have to touch on his career in the NHL to this point and how he ended up back in the world’s second best hockey league.

Grigorenko made the jump straight into the NHL after being picked 12th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2012 NHL entry draft, scoring just five points in 25 NHL games.

This measly performance did not discourage the Sabres though, as the Russian forward appeared in 18 games in the 2013-14 season, in which he scored a…rather terrible three points. The next season, Grigorenko scored just six points in 25 games on the historically terrible 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres. In case you’re not keeping count, Grigorenko has just 14 points in 68 career NHL games.

Don’t worry though, Grigorenko would soon be on the move to another awful team.

On June 26 2015, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, J.T Compher and a second round pick in the 2015 draft were traded to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Rielly and Jamie McGinn.

The Russian forward would greatly improve with the Avalanche, scoring 50 points in 149 total games with Colorado.

After two seasons with the Avs, Grigorenko would leave the NHL in 2017 at the young age of 22 to return home to Russia. His stint with Colorado would bring up his career totals to 64 points in 217 games.

Over his 217 game career, Grigorenko would average a 44.5 CF% (bad), a 100.0 PDO (straight average), and was responsible for the creation 23 goals (mediocre), all while averaging 13:16 TOI & starting just 49.7% of his shifts in the O-Zone (not ideal).

Now on to his time in the KHL.

Last season, Grigorenko scored 17 goals and 52 points in 55 KHL games, which adds to his (rather mediocre) 2017-18 totals of 23 points in 45 games for a total of 75 points in 100 games. His performance, per Dobber Prospects’ NHLe calculator, is equivalent to a 49 point NHL season over a regular 82 game season.

At the time that I am writing this, the Russian winger has 15 points in just 16 KHL games, which is equivalent to 62 points over a full NHL season.

So, how does one go from a rather poor NHL player to a legitimate KHL star?

In this case, it seems purely like deployment. As I mentioned earlier, Grigorenko averaged just 13:16 ATOI (third-line minutes) and started a rather inconvenient 49.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone (not ideal in any sense) over his 217 game NHL career.

It is of my personal belief that players can & will not succeed if not put into a position to do so by the organization. If the Sabres really wanted him to succeed, they would not have played him in the NHL right away, and certainly not for over half of the season if he was struggling as much as he was.

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Also, playing a highly skilled rookie in the bottom six completely eliminates the point of having that player in the lineup, as many teams (especially at that time) fill their bottom six forward group with gritty veterans. Also, a rookie should never have defensive responsibility large enough to begin the majority of their shifts (and in Grigorenko’s case, take faceoffs) in the defensive zone. Now, enough about the Sabres.

Grigorenko is currently playing top-six minutes on one of the KHL’s most dominant teams and lighting it up (as the stats above suggest) and seems to have certainly found his game again after a rather damaging NHL stint.

The Russian forward is set to become a free agent at the end of this season, and seems to eying an NHL return considering he’s met with Kyle Dubas.

I personally really like Grigorenko, am very intrigued by his success in the KHL, and feel that he could offer a real solid choice in a middle six role. That being said, it’s not like he never played in the NHL, and his performance prior to leaving was just simply poor, regardless of how little opportunity he was given.

In terms of being a fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I can totally see him taking over for Spezza in a bottom-six role (this time with actually skilled linemates), but don’t personally see him slotting in above on any other line at this point, especially considering the forward depth that the Leafs have.

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So, he really is not a fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs in my opinion, but teams that are lacking depth such as Edmonton, Dallas, and Colorado (again) would be ideal situations for him.