Should Leafs draft Grigorenko if he is still available at 5
The Leafs, we'd all agree, need to somehow acquire a big, point-gathering centre, and neither the trade market nor free agency seems to have offered one up. That leaves the draft, and what will the Leafs do if it comes to their pick at No. 5 and Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts is sitting there, still available?
The 18-year-old Grigorenko appears to be the falling star of this draft, although others - Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads has also plummeted - have also seen their draft rankings decline. On one hand, Grigorenko has the size teams love down the middle, he had 85 points in 59 games with the Remparts and played for Russia at the world juniors and for months he and Nail Yakupov were viewed as 1-2 for the 2012 draft.
On the other hand, the 6-foot-3 Grigorenko didn't impress at the top prospects game last winter, then disappeared when Quebec coughed up a 3-0 series lead and lost a playoff series to the aforementioned Mooseheads. Later, it was revealed he had contracted mono, but his performance seemed to confirm in many minds that he simply plays when he wants to.
The other issue, of course, is the KHL. Grigorenko is telling teams that he has no interest in the KHL, which is why he came to North America in the first place. That said, his rights are owned by CSKA Moscow, formerly Red Army, the club that won 32 league titles during the Soviet era. CSKA is now managed by Sergei Fedorov and was recently purchased by Russian state oil giant Rosneft, with plans to return the team to glory, and the team recently purchased the contract of controversial forward Alexander Radulov. This may be a team with money to spend and motivation to spend it.
So Grigorenko may indeed feel he wants to play in the NHL right now. But let's say the Leafs were to draft him and send him back to the Remparts for seasoning. Or in two years, they assign him to the Toronto Marlies, and maybe after one season he's still not quite ready, a la Nazem Kadri, and then there's CSKA in the background with a massive contract. It gets tricky. The Leafs might quietly wonder if they have the same problem right now with German imports Korbinian Holzer and Marcel Mueller, both of whom have the safety net of lucrative contracts in the DEL waiting for them if the AHL doesn't work out.
It's not a slam at Russians or Europeans. it's about basic economics and job opportunities for hockey players. For Grigorenko, faced with making $65,000 in the AHL while paying $2,000 a month for a condo in the city and the chance to make 30-40 times that salary in Russia with a free apartment, car and low tax rate, the pull could become irresistable. Right now, Washington looks as though it has no choice but to wait at least another two seasons before former first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov wants to come to North America.
So there's two issues for the Leafs if Grigorenko is still there at No. 5. How do they evaluate the player, who is still ranked No. 3 among North American skaters but has fallen out of the top 10 of the draft in many eyes? When players fall - remember the fate of both Angelo Esposito and the late Alexei Cherepanov in the 2007 draft? - there's often a substantial reason. Ditto for Patrick O'Sullivan (2003) and Robert Dome (1997). On the other hand, the Flyers were thrilled when Sean Couturier fell to eighth last June, and he made the NHL in his first crack at it. Ditto for defenceman Cam Fowler and Anaheim two years ago.