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|Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko talk about return as Avalanche heads to Sabres
14 ôåâðàëÿ 2017 ãîäà. The Denver Post. By TERRY FREI.
Which team got the better of the trade? The Buffalo Sabres or the Colorado Avalanche?
NEWARK, N.J. — A year ago, when the Avalanche played at Buffalo, Nikita Zadorov was with Colorado’s American Hockey league affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, and Mikhail Grigorenko had an assist in the team’s 4-1 loss to the Sabres. So the impact of the June 2015 Ryan O’Reilly trade, at least from the Avalanche’s side of the deal, was only minimally on display.
This time, when the Avalanche faces the Sabres on Thursday night at the KeyBank Center, both of the young Russians — Zadorov and Grigorenko — will be in the Colorado lineup, while two others who directly or indirectly were part of the trade are with the Rampage.
O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn went to the Sabres in exchange for Zadorov, Grigorenko, the rights to then-Michigan Wolverine forward J.T. Compher and a second-round draft choice. The Avs traded that pick and as part of the deal ended up with a lower second-round choice it used to take winger A.J. Greer, then at Boston University. Compher and Greer are at San Antonio, but are considered likely to be with the Avalanche next season.
Often, when the “only time will tell” line is thrown out about a trade, it’s a lame rationalization — or, at best, a desperate hope. In this instance, it was true.
Before Grigorenko had one of the Colorado goals in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center, I asked him and Zadorov to look ahead to their imminent return to Buffalo. And we never got around to where to get the best chicken wings.
Zadorov played seven games for the Sabres in 2013-14 and 60 the next season. In his second season with the Colorado organization, he is starting to look like the most valuable part of the deal on the Colorado side as a defenseman making major progress, despite inconsistency and occasional major mental mistakes. And he’s only 21.
Grigorenko, who again played on the Matt Duchene-centered second line against the Devils with Rene Bourque out with a head injury, remains a major disappointment. But he’s only 22.
Both could become restricted free agents July 1. Grigorenko is playing this season under a one-year, $1.3-million deal and Zadorov is finishing up his entry-level contract, with a cap hit of $894,167.
“I missed the game there last year,” Zadorov said of Buffalo. “I’m going to be excited to play there this year. It’s a good memory. I have a few friends on their team, and it’s going to be a great matchup to play against guys I know.”
Grigorenko said: “I think it’s always special to play against your former team for any player. Last year, I had two decent games against them, and I had fun going back to Buffalo. If we can win and I can score, that would be great. But their organization was really nice to me. They treat their players well.”
If Zadorov continues to develop and perhaps (depending on other Avs moves) is locked in as Erik Johnson‘s partner in the top pairing next season, that would be a huge step toward validating the trade, made because of the O’Reilly camp’s contractual militance — he ended up with a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension from the Sabres — and with the Avalanche having limited leverage.
“It’s not my business, right?” Zadorov asked. “I got traded. It wasn’t my decision, and I’m not mad at them. This team wanted me more, right? I’m not looking to show anybody else. I’m looking to show this management and everyone that they were right. I’m improving, and I want to keep it going. I feel like when I play physical, and the coaches feel the same way, my game grows. It’s my goal.”
First-year Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of Zadorov: “We’ve talked a lot about the upward progression we think he’s on, and about making sure the physicality part is a base of his play, and I feel the rest of his game comes together that way. The last few games, he’s been off that a little bit and we’re trying to get him back to that. I feel like he plays better, he moves the puck better, when he’s more involved physically. But certainly we feel like he’s improving.”
Grigorenko, who had played major junior under Patrick Roy with the Quebec Remparts, got his sixth goal of the season against New Jersey and only his 12th in 125 games with Colorado.
“I didn’t make that trade, so I’m just trying to be the best version of myself and get better every day and reach my potential as a player,” Grigorenko said.
How can he be more productive?
“I think I need to shoot more and not overcomplicate things,” Grigorenko said. “I think sometimes with shooting position, I try to look for a better place and hesitate a little bit. It’s been tough on our team this year. We’re all struggling a little bit, and we don’t have the confidence to put the puck in the net. I think most of us need to shoot more and for me, that’s always the thing. Everybody always tells me that. I know that. I’m trying to.”
Bednar noted Grigorenko “has been hold and cold for us this season. We’ve seen flashes of what he can do with the Duchene line, with the MacKinnon line. The consistency of it for him, I think when he’s moving his feet and he’s charging the puck up the ice, and when he plays a skating game, he’s more effective.”
Down on the farm, Greer has 13 goals and 21 assists in 47 games with San Antonio, and he didn’t have a point in five early season games with the Avalanche. Also with the Rampage, Compher has 13 goals and 15 assists in 36 games.
With the Sabres, O’Reilly — whose contributions sometimes are intangible and/or don’t show up on the scoresheet — has 12 goals and 24 assists in 47 games. McGinn was traded to Anaheim at the deadline last year and this season is with Arizona.
Time is starting to provide hints.