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Don't worry, Sabres fans: Mikhail Grigorenko will be back soon

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The 2012 first-round pick has had more downs than ups, but his demotion to start the season should be temporary.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

BUFFALO -- Mikhail Grigorenko not making the Buffalo Sabres' Opening Night roster could be seen as a major disappointment, but the other way to see it is as just a bump in the road.

Grigorenko, 20, was sent down to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League on Monday to help the Sabres get down to their 23-man roster for their season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

After having perhaps his best training camp since being drafted by the Sabres, many thought he would break camp with the team. Instead, he's headed to the minors, and he told John Vogl of The Buffalo News that he believed he earned a spot with the team.

"Obviously, I’m happy about my camp, and I thought I did everything I could," Grigorenko told The Buffalo News today. "I worked hard. You can’t control those things. I did everything I could. I have no regrets with myself and the way I played.

"I personally think I probably earned at least the start of the season here and one more chance. They thought I should go to the AHL."

For what it's worth, Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he liked a lot of what Grigorenko did in the offseason and during the preseason.

"He's had a great summer," Nolan said. "He almost convinced us to do something to keep him. So he's real, real close. He's knocking on the door -- he just needs a little more seasoning."

That little bit of seasoning might come quickly.

Instead of Grigorenko making the team, it's 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart who will make his NHL debut on Thursday. As with any player with junior eligibility, the Sabres will have as many as nine games to see if Reinhart belongs in the NHL or needs to go back to Kootenay in the Western Hockey League.

Should Reinhart go back, there may be a method to the madness. A return to junior hockey frees up Reinhart to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships -- a team he might be captain of should he go. That kind of experience, especially with WJCs taking place in Montreal and Toronto this year, is invaluable. A return to juniors will also allow the Sabres to avoid burning a year of his entry-level contract, and his departure would open the door for Grigorenko to rejoin the team and fill his vacated spot on a potential line with Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta -- Reinhart's linemates at practice on Monday.

It's easy for fans to pile on Grigorenko after failing to stick in the NHL the past two seasons, but after seeing his development skewed by different schedules and coaches, he's on the right path at last. He's shown tremendous maturity throughout both development camp in July and training camp in September. In short, he can handle this setback and grow from it.

Grigorenko will be back and the Sabres will be better for it both in the short-term and the long run.