Near the start of the 2011-12 season, Mikhail Grigorenko was considered one of the top two talents in the upcoming draft. In fact, some lists had him as a "1B" prospect next to probable first overall pick Nail Yakupov.
By the end of the season, however, Grigorenko’s stock had almost universally fallen across most consensus lists. As Kyle Woodlief of Redline Report put it at the end of April:
Mikhail Grigorenko (7): His pathetic disappearing act in a playoff series that his club was leading 3-0, and eventually lost 4-3, has every team drafting among the top 5 deathly afraid.
Grigorenko’s ranking is one of the most erratic across various lists at this point. While Redline Report had him down at 7th, Craig Button ranked him 20th in his latest update. ISS moved him down to 4th as did Future Considerations. James Mirtle’s updated rankings for the Globe and Mail today places Grigorenko 9th.
So What happened? Corey Pronman has an excellent overview of how perceptions of Grigorenko changed over at Hockey Prospectus. Some excerpts:
When I talked to a handful of head scouts during the first months of the draft season, the general feel I got for who they would rank first overall was between Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko and that Alex Galchenyuk would have been in that discussion if he didn’t have the season-ending injury.
NHL sources I talked to around mid-season felt he was a top-two or top-three prospect; NHL sources Bob McKenzie talked to felt that way at mid-season and even in the spring; a prominent NHL-funded scouting service felt that way at mid-season; and based on my own observations, I felt that way as well. So why isn’t Grigorenko a 100% sure thing to go in the top three now? It was around roughly February or March that I started getting a lot of people contacting me on Twitter asking about Grigorenko’s character and on-ice work ethic.
I’m not exactly sure when this issue started to take off, but it snowballed pretty quickly from the start of the spring to now. This was not news to me, as I had been well aware that Grigorenko’s on-ice work ethic was a hole in his skill set. When I polled scouts at various points as I mentioned in this column, whenever I asked them to talk about his skill set, they would mention he’s not the kind of player to go 100% every shift; yet despite that, they still talked about him in a glowing fashion. One head scout who had him as a top-three prospect said, "He may only be going at 75%, but he’s still clearly the best player on the ice."
So what happened between Jaunary and April that sunk Grigorenko’s stock in the eyes of so many? As hinted by Redline Report, he had a lousy playoffs, but a seven game sample isn’t enough to do that much damage, no matter how bad the performance. Grigorenko also suffered from an ankle injury at the World Junior Championship and, later, played through a bout of mono (which was only diagnosed after the Mooseheads bowed out in the first round and is a probable contributing factor to his disappearance in the post-season).
I decided to take a look at Grigorenko’s game-by-game output during the regular season to see if there were some answers in the math. His scoring famously fell off after the WJC and the ankle injury, but I wondered if there was another facet to his apparent decline beyond simply recovering from injury.
Games played: 36
Total points: 58
Even strength PPG: 0.97
Powerplay PPG: 0.53
Grigorenko’s early season was indeed impressive. He was a 20+ goal scorer by the end of November and was scoring a high percentage of his club’s offense when he was in the line-up. What’s more, he wasn’t overly reliant on PP production, with about 60% of his offense coming at five-on-five.
Games played: 23
Total points: 27
ES PPG: 0.91
PP PPG: 0.22
I have highlighted the items of interest. Grigorenko’s output certainly fell after the World Junior Championships, but what’s interesting is that it was special teams – not even strength – production that suffered. In 36 games prior to January, Grigorenko managed 35 ES points, 19 PP points and 4 points on empty nets. After the WJC, he scored 21 ES points in 23 games, but just five points on the man advantage and one empty-netter.
This suggests that luck and circumstance had a strong influence on his downturn, rather than injury and suddenly emergent character issues. PP production can sometimes go south for various reasons – small samples of ice, poor SH%, etc – and the fact that Grigorenko’s scoring at five-on-five mostly held steady is instructive.
So even at his worst, when struggling through a PP dry spell and battling back from an ankle injury, Girgorenko was still better than a PPG player and contributed to 30% of his team’s offense when he was in the line-up.
Mikhail Grigorenko’s scoring fell in the latter half of the season, likely due to either less ice time on the PP or simply a rough patch on the man advantage or some combination therein. His ES production was more or less steady, however. When he fell on his face in the playoffs (likely due to battling through mono), it seemed to put an exclamation mark on a lot of scouts and pundits newly surfaced doubts about the player.
Add in the fact that Grigorenko is, uh, not compelling in the defensive zone, is marked by the "Russian risk" stigma, and doesn’t play the balls-to-the-wall style most expect of hopefuls and you have a cratering prospect stock and the perception that he has work ethic and personality issues.
If indeed Grigorenko falls beyond the top-5 this Friday, the lucky team that takes the risk to draft him will likley end up with a great value offensive talent.