Buffalo Sabres forward Mikhail Grigorenko is heading back to the press box, as he will be a healthy scratch against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, according to media reports out of Buffalo.
Selected with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Grigorenko remained with the Sabres last season by playing in 25 games despite having junior eligibility. That resulted in the first year of his entry-level contract beginning in last year's 48-game truncated season, which meant the Sabres lost 32 games of service from the contract out of the gate and lost 23 more games through a combination of making him a healthy scratch and sending him back to juniors after the slide window had closed.
Now he's back upstairs only four games into his second year.
From a strategic standpoint, keeping Grigorenko last year was a questionable decision in terms of asset management. As we have seen on countless occasions, organizational control over a prospect is one of the most valuable things a team can maintain. The longer you keep a prospect from playing at the NHL level equates to more time before he earns his second contract. The longer you keep him from his second contract, the less money you have to pay him under the salary cap. The less money you pay him under the salary cap, means more money available for other areas.
Of course, there are instances where a prospect is primed to begin his NHL career. The glaring issue in this circumstance is the decision to waste a year of his entry-level contract in a shortened season where he spent a considerable amount of time wearing a suit. But, the past is the past and there's no changing that. However, an early relegation to the press box starts to get flags -- albeit little ones -- popping up a bit.
Grigorenko admitted on Tuesday that he had confidence issues last year, via NHL.com:
"I wasn't confident [last year]. I was a little nervous, even in the locker room," he said. "This year, I've got confidence and I've gotten used to the guys, and I've gotten adjusted a little more. I'm a little bit more comfortable this year."
Is staying off the ice going to help with his confidence? Will it hurt it? It remains to be seen.
Expecting a seamless transition to playing in the world's top-professional league is unrealistic. There are going to be bumps along the way and sitting upstairs for the fifth game of the season isn't going to kill his development. In fact, observing the game might help him digest mental concepts the coaching staff has tried to relay to him.
Coach Ron Rolston commented that he wants Grigorenko to be more competitive and expressed that he needs to expand his mental awareness, via the Buffalo News:
"That means you've got to go to the puck, you've got to get the puck, you've got to support the puck, you've got to be around the puck, you've got to battle for the puck. You can stickhandle in a phone booth and that doesn't really translate unless you can be an impact on the game.
"He's a young player. He's still learning those things and how to do that, be impactful at this level, and how that's changed from junior hockey to pro hockey. It's a learning process."
A night in the press box might allow him the opportunity to reflect on these lessons. There have been plenty of players who have benefitted from a healthy scratch early in their career.
But, for a team who has vocalized a desire to reconstruct through the draft, it's important that this doesn't become a trend.