RP – Bill Hoppe Olean Times Herald
BUFFALO – Ten minutes after the Sabres’ 5-2 opening-day win over the Philadelphia Flyers had ended, Steve Ott was still thinking about that nifty chance beside the net slick rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko had created for him.
Sure, Ott was excited about his power-play goal that opened the scoring just 11:07 into his Sabres debut. But the opportunity that had gotten away was still playing inside his head at bit.
“I kind of feel bad. He set the table,” Ott said Sunday inside the First Niagara Center. “I kind of almost had a gimme there on the side of the net. I wish I would’ve put it in for the kid. But you know what? This kid’s going to be real good. Obviously, I think it started tonight. People are going to start recognizing the stamina in a heartbeat.
“Obviously, if I can stick with him for a little while, obviously I’ll ride his coattails.”
Ott might have a good gig for years to come.
Grigorenko, the 12th overall pick in June’s NHL Entry Draft, became just the sixth 18-year-old to dress in the Sabres’ opening-day lineup. At 18 years and 254 days old, only four players – Shawn Anderson, Tom Barrasso, Phil Housley and Pierre Turgeon, the team’s last regular 18-year-old – have played for the team at a younger age, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Grigorenko played 11:13 over 15 shifts in his NHL debut, mostly beside Ott and Jochen Hecht. The Russian also skated 50 seconds on the power play.
He drew a penalty and was on the ice for the Flyers’ first goal.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Grigorenko played “steady” and “consistent.”
“I probably used him as much as I wanted to,” Ruff said. “I think there’s going to be an opportunity to inject him in a few other places in the coming games. But (I) wanted to get him through that first game, and I thought it went well. …
“I thought defensively, sometimes in his own end we got hemmed in a little bit. But positionally, I thought he did a good job.”
Grigorenko shook off his nervousness early, never looking out of place against some opponents nearly twice his age.
“I wasn’t nervous at all (the) first two shifts,” Grigorenko said. “I think I was more nervous in warm-up.”
The Sabres can play Grigorenko four more times before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in.
“It was my first game, but I adjusted to this level,” Grigorenko said. “I sure hope I stay here. I really like it here.”
Ott joked he feels bigger around the 6-foot-3 Grigorenko, who he called “a beast.”
“For a young kid, he’s learning on the fly, which is fun to watch,” Ott said. “He’s handling it great. He’s handling his pressure. I thought he was dynamite for his first NHL game.”
Meanwhile, Ott, an offseason acquisition from Dallas, showcased his sturdy all-around game Sunday, being a physical pest in addition to playing on the power play, killing penalties and taking draws.
“It’s trying to find places for guys to fit,” Ruff said. “Steve’s played a lot of power plays, he’s killed a lot of penalties. He’s a good faceoff guy. I want to try to keep him involved. (We) know he can hit, know he can agitate. But it’s good to get on the score sheet. Confidence-wise, I think it’s great for him.”
Ott added: “The feeling, the crowd, the whole experience of it, you dream of that moment. For the last nine months I was worried how long it was going to take to score that goal. Obviously, to put one in in a hurry grabs a little confidence from that.”