Mikhail Grigorenko, a center from Russia, pulls on a Buffalo Sabres cap after being chosen 12th overall in the first round of the NHL hockey draft on Friday, June 22, 2012, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Buffalo Sabres aren't wasting any time in their bid to sign their top draft pick, centre Mikhail Grigorenko.
General manager Darcy Regier said Monday that he's already informed the player's agent that he intends to open contract talks in the very near future.
The Sabres selected Grigorenko with the 12th pick in the NHL draft on Friday, and believe the Russian-born player has the potential to make an immediate impact this season.
Whether or not Grigorenko proves ready, Regier added that the Sabres aren't done stockpiling centres this off-season. After using two first-round picks—Buffalo also traded up to select Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th pick—and four of their eight picks on centres, Regier is now turning his attention to acquiring experienced players either through free agency or by trade.
"We're going to look for ways to improve the team, and that extends beyond free agency," Regier said. "I don't think it's fair to put it on these young fellows to step in immediately and contribute."
Though vowing to be aggressive, Regier was cautious when it came to making guarantees because he projects the free-agent market to be thin on quality talent once it opens on Sunday.
"There will be an awful lot of competition for really very few players," Regier said. "So most teams are going to fail in unrestricted free agency. Hopefully, we're not one of them, but that's the probability."
Buffalo identified centre as its most pressing need this off-season. And it's a position that's been lacking since the team lost top-line centres Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in free agency in 2007.
The Sabres are coming off a disappointing season in which a lack of chemistry and injuries led their high-priced roster to miss the playoffs for the third time in five years.
Grigorenko, listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, played for Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. He led the league's rookies with 45 goals and 85 points in 59 games despite dealing with an illness at the end of the season.
Grigorenko is already living out of a hotel in Buffalo, and intends to stay in town at least through the team's rookie developmental camp in two weeks.
"For sure I want to play in NHL," he said Monday. "I'll do everything to make NHL."
And Grigorenko regarded a potential labour dispute that could delay the start of the season as something that could help his chances.
"Probably it will be better for me because I'll have more time to prepare to play in the NHL," he said. "So I'll have more time to get stronger, learn more things about hockey."
Girgensons, listed at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, is from Latvia but has spent the past three seasons playing in North America. Last season, his second with Dubuque of the U.S. Hockey League, he led the team with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 49 games, with six of his goals game-winners.
Girgensons is committed to playing at Vermont this season. Regier said the team is taking a wait-and-see approach with Girgensons before opening contract talks.
The Sabres also drafted centres Justin Kea (73rd overall) and Logan Nelson (133rd).