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Mikhail Grigorenko Making the Case to Stick on Top Line

One three-point game won’t magically erase three years of disappointment, but Mikhail Grigorenko is making a strong case to remain on the Colorado Avalanche’s top line. With Gabriel Landeskog suspended for two contests for this hit, head coach Patrick Roy needed to find a short-term replacement alongside Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon.

It was Grigorenko who got the call, and the trio was splendid against the Montreal Canadiens over the weekend. Colorado won 6-1, and the new-look top line accounted for nine points. We’re used to seeing multi-point efforts from Duchene and MacKinnon, but this is some new territory for the former 12th-overall pick.

For Grigorenko, this marked just the second time that he’s managed more than a single point in a game in the NHL. Before Saturday, there had been no multi-point outings since November 8, 2013. That’s more than a two-year gap, and it’s indicative of how badly the former Buffalo Sabre has struggled during his NHL career.

It seems like he has been in the league forever, but that’s because Buffalo made the baffling choice to keep Grigorenko around for the 2012-13 season. There was no question that he needed more time to develop, but the Sabres essentially tossed him to the wolves as a teenager. He wouldn’t last in the NHL that year, and was eventually demoted to the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, where he went on to post 54 points in 33 games.

The talent has always been there for Grigorenko, but he never panned out in Buffalo. He played on some historically awful teams, and while the Sabres appear to be on the rebound now, there wasn’t much talent for him to work with during the earlier stages of his career. It’s not a stretch to say that this is the most talented line he’s ever been a part of, and it’s not shocking to see Grigorenko pop up on the stat sheet when he’s playing with elite forwards.

Landeskog will be eligible to return after Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but if Grigorenko plays well again, it might make sense to keep the trio rolling. It’s worth noting that the forward took Landeskog’s spot on the top line after he was ejected from the Boston Bruins game, and he set Duchene up for the game-winning goal that evening.

All told, that’s four points in four periods for Grigorenko on that line.

There’s no denying that Landeskog is the leader of the Avalanche, but that doesn’t mean he should be cemented to the top line. Bumping him to the second unit–even for a week or two–would give Roy some options with his top two lines and could help Colorado get on the score board more frequently.

This is already a top-10 team in terms of goals for and average goals scorer per game, but some leaky defensive play has prevented the Avs from tacking on more wins. It may be tough for Roy to mess with a good thing, especially since the top unit is playing with so much urgency and speed. Grigorenko has never been known as a speedster, but he hasn’t struggled to keep up with two of the NHL’s better skaters in Duchene and MacKinnon. He spoke about the line’s chemistry following the win over the Habs:

“It was a lot of fun right from the start, right from the warmup. They’re great players and all you’ve got to do is play our game and just don’t try to change it, and it looked like we had pretty good chemistry out there and I’m really happy about my game.”

It can be dangerous to assume anything about the mental approach of players, but all three of these three forwards have a bit to prove right now. For MacKinnon, he’s trying to show that his sluggish Sophomore season was a fluke, while Duchene is fighting off trade rumors that began circulating last week.

After the game in Montreal, Roy noted that MacKinnon thrives when he’s skating with forwards capable of utilizing the give-and-go, and that just so happens to be one of Grigorenko’s calling cards.

The 21-year-old still has a long way to go to prove that he was worth such a high draft pick in 2012, but at 21 he still has plenty of time to do so. All he’s needed is an opportunity, and he has that right now while playing alongside MacKinnon and Duchene.

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