Mikhail Grigorenko would have loved a Mikhail vs. Nail showdown at this week's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
"I wanted him here," says the Quebec Remparts centre, now the highest-ranked prospect in the game after Yakupov's withdrawal due to his recovery from a knee injury. "It would be really fun to play against Nail. We didn't play on the same line at the under-20, but he's a really good guy and a really good player."
Grigorenko has earned the second spot in NHL Central Scouting's North American midterm rankings, along with his own Fail For Mikhail shadow campaign, by regularly putting on showstopping performances since joining Quebec in September. The rangy Russian, who possesses great skill in a good-sized package at 6-foot-2 and 191 pounds, is averaging better than a point and a half per game as a 17-year-old. His numbers through 41 games (28 goals, 64 points) are near-identical to what last season's No. 3 overall pick, Jonathan Huderdeau had through the same number of games (27 goals, 65 points) while playing in a weaker division. Grigorenko has done is in spite of an ankle injury that he played through during the world junior championship that is still bad enough that Remparts coach-GM Patrick Roy didn't want him to play in the Top Prospects Game (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, Sportsnet/TVA Sports).
"It's not one hundred per cent, probably 70 or 80," Grigorenko says. "I was disappointed to get hurt [at the world junior] because I had been one of the top scorers on the team and I would have been able to help the team more. After the injury I changed my style to play more in my zone and help my D [defence]."
Grigorenko adds that coming to North America has helped him brush up on some of the finer points of his game.
"When I was in Russia last year I couldn't play my zone, but now I'm not bad," he says. "My faceoffs have improved as well."
1. How have you found the Quebec league to be since we spoke in September?
"I really like Quebec more and more and I really like my team. The guys are really nice and we have a really good coach in Patrick Roy. Quebec also has great fans, 10,000 per game. It's nice people there, really beautiful downtown."
2. What do you still want to prove that you can do over the final third of this season and playoffs?
"I want to prove first of all that my play in my zone is strong. I think at first this season I did not do that so well so as I get closer to the draft I want to do it better and better."
3. Whom do in the NHL do you watch and think, "He's doing things I need to start doing" or "I need to play more like him?"
"I think Evgeni Malkin [of the Pittsburgh Penguins], but my favourite player is [the New Jersey Devils'] Ilya Kovalchuk. It would probably be Malkin."
4. Who has been the toughest defenceman you've faced in the Q?
"Probably Artem Sergeev [of the Val-d'Or Foreurs]. He's a really good player in the D zone, very tough. [Shawinigan's] Brandon Gormley and [Saint John's] Nathan Beaulieu, they are also great players."
5. Which of your teammates on the Remparts have done the most to help you adapt to North America? (Grigorenko spoke broken English in September but has become fairly conversational within the past five months.)
"When I arrived everyone helped me and spoke with me and now we have a great connection. Everyone helped me. [Remparts winger] Frédérick Roy helped me a lot, he is Pat's son and he's the oldest guy on our team."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).