The way Mr. Grigorenko has fallen in final draft rankings and mock drafts is surprising. Whereas he was thought at the start of the season to be in competition with Nail Yakupov for the honor of being the first player taken overall, he is now seen, for example, as the 12th ranked prospect in Bob McKenzie's final draft rankings for TSN, a historically reliable indicator of draft intentions since they are compiled by averaging the scores of numerous NHL scouts' lists.
The grumbling started midway through last season, Mr. Grigorenko's first in the LHJMQ, when anonymous scouts were quoted as saying he was lazy and didn't give full effort, especially on the back check. The money quote came from a scout who said that he wouldn't pick him in the Top-15 if his team's turn came up that high.
On the record, some scouts would partially agree that it sometimes appeared that he didn't give full effort, but would temper their words by explaining that his game is a more cerebral game as opposed to an in-your-face puck-chasing physical centre like Brendan Gaunce. Whereas the latter hits and digs with energy in the corners, Mr. Grigorenko is more of a positional player who anticipates where the puck will be and uses his body effectively but unspectacularly.
The further explanation that he had mononucleosis during the playoffs and thus couldn't play with full energy, as well as having to fight off an ankle sprain suffered during the World Junior Tournament hasn't managed to salvage his reputation.
One factor which can't be overlooked is how much the comparison with Alex Galchenyuk paints him in an unflattering light. Mr. Galchenyuk has a more spectacular playing style, he's a touch shorter and has a shorter skating stride, which makes him appear more engaged. He is also a gym rat, a fact which helped him wow the scouts at the NHL Draft Combine, while Mr. Grigorenko had to stay on the sidelines and couldn't participate in the physical testing as he recovers from his illness. An important component in the comparison is how much more fluent and comfortable Alex Galchenyuk is in the English language compared to his counterpart.
The result is that while he was seen as a reasonable option for the Canadiens at #3 as recently as a couple weeks ago, he now would be seen as a 'reach' if he was taken there. This is a ridiculous analysis of the situation for various reasons.
One is the fact that aside from Nail Yakupov and possibly Ryan Murray, there is no clearcut choice who is head and shoulders above the other prospects. Indeed, Mr. Yakupov is thought to be slightly better than his cohort, but not to the same degree as Eric Lindros or Vincent Lecavalier or Sidney Crosby was. This isn't even a Taylor-Tyler situation, where two picks are clearly, significantly better than the other choices. Further, the other choices in the Top 10 or 15 are thought to be 'bunched up' and relatively equal in value. So if the Canadiens deem it an organizational need to get a big strong skilled centre, Mikhail Grigorenko is as valid a pick as Matt Dumba or Filip Forsberg, and not a case of passing over clearly better players to choose a project.
Second, the concept of a reach is stretched to the point of meaninglessness by draft analysts. A team is reaching when they pick a player a full round or two ahead of where they could reasonably have expected to snag that player. For example, if the Canadiens had Malcolm Subban ranked as the best player on their board at #3, and they picked him, they might be assailed as having reached for him since he was only ranked #25 or so. In fact, however, they would have drafted the best player available to them in their estimation, their own research showed them, right or wrong, that he was the most logical choice, regardless of outside rankings. Now, if Malcolm Subban had been ranked closer to #45, then the Canadiens could be accused of reaching, since they conceivably could have picked him up at #33. They could have taken a very reasonable risk and waited until the second round, and have picked up another player rated highly on their board in the first round. Clearly, this won't be the case on Saturday, Mr. Grigorenko will be long gone by the time the second round starts.
So if on Friday the Canadiens choose Mikhail Grigorenko, convinced that he is the best player for the team for years to come, I'll be happy with the choice and will trust that the scouting staff made the best decision it could.