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2014 NHL DRAFT
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Mikhail Grigorenko next to visit Edmonton

Mono slowed No. 3-ranked skater, but Grigorenko says he's ready for prime time

Wednesday, 06.06.2012 / 8:30 PM / 2014 NHL Entry Draft
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Mikhail Grigorenko next to visit Edmonton
Mikhail Grigorenko arrives at the Edmonton International Airport.
WATCH VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Grigorenko Arrives in Edmonton
Leduc, AB - Taylor vs. Tyler? Nugent-Hopkins vs. Larsson? No, it's not necessarily a neck-and-neck, two-horse race this year.

According to Oilers Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor, it's still up in the air. Nail Yakupov is obviously in the discussion, but four others -- including Mikhail Grigorenko (C), Filip Forsberg (RW), Griffin Reinhart (D) and Ryan Murray (D) -- are also in the mix to be chosen with the club's prestigious No. 1 overall pick.

Of that enviable, highly skilled crop, three have been invited to Edmonton for an exclusive rink- and city-wide tour, as well as a meet-and-greet with Oilers brass. Yakupov arrived late Sunday night and was given a look-see around Rexall Place before settling in to dinner with team owner Daryl Katz the next day.

Now, it's Grigorenko's turn.

"I'm looking forward to meeting the people here, seeing the arena," he said as edmontonoilers.com greeted him at the Edmonton International Airport Wednesday.

Grigorenko is no stranger to Alberta, having played in the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary -- but his visit in Edmonton will be a new experience. Just a week ago, the 6'2" and 191-pound right-winger was bombarded with 17 interviews at the Scouting Combine, including a memorable one with the General Manager Steve Tambellini, MacGregor and the Oilers.

"When I met with Edmonton, it was a really nice interview. All the people there were really nice and they didn't ask me any weird questions.

"It wasn't weird, but one team asked me to take off my shirt," he laughed.

"I met so many teams, so many people -- scouts, general managers, so everything was good."
 
One of the questions he was commonly asked was, "What happened in the post-season?" An understandable inquiry, considering it's a blemish the Russian would prefer to forget.

Grigorenko's Quebec Remparts held a 3-0 second-round series lead over the Halifax Mooseheads, but coughed it up with four straight losses and were eliminated. In total, Grigorenko posted a pedestrian goal and an assist, along with a disappointing -5 rating in Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 -- lending credence to an earlier critique about work ethic.

It didn't seem right, because the 18-year-old was sensational in the regular season, scoring 40 goals and 85 points in 58 games. In the Remparts' opening-round series vs. Drummondville, he maintained a similar pace.

As it turned out, Grigorenko had contracted mononucleosis and simply didn't have any energy. (Look to Mike Comrie's abbreviated 2009-10 campaign to see how the illness can so abruptly derail one's season.)

"I couldn't do some things that I'd normally do during the season," he recalled. "The last two games were especially tough and I think it (mono) started there. I had a fever, couldn't sleep at night and couldn't eat before our games. It was hard."

Still, Grigorenko's work ethic is constantly questioned. Talent-wise, he's right up there with Yakupov but scouts want more, which is why he's dipped to No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's year-end list.

As Grigorenko explains, the pressure (and responsibility) was all on his shoulders. Quebec opened the post-season with a four-game sweep of Drummondville and went on to win the next three in the second round -- a seven-game winning streak that doesn't get the credit it deserves.

"(Apparently) I was only playing well if we were winning," he said, disagreeing with some scouts' assessments. "I was working hard and we were doing well, but then we lost four straight. But it's hockey. I didn't have any energy and didn't know what was going on."

It was mono. And whether or not his production in the post-season represents a reasonable evaluation, he can't change it now and shouldn't be concerned with it. Which team wouldn't want a big, skilled winger oozing with elite-level hockey sense?

"I think I had a really good season," Grigorenko said. "(Remparts co-owner, general manager and head coach) Patrick Roy told me I had a really amazing season and learned a lot. In the playoffs, I would have liked to have played better, but I couldn't control it."

His stock is all over the map. According to one source I spoke to last weekend at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, Grigorenko's name doesn't appear until the selection count is well into double digits.

That isn't the most common outlook, but it's out there. The Oilers and countless others have Grigorenko pegged as an elite superstar in the making. Is the package enticing enough to make a pitch at No. 1?

"It would be amazing (to be picked by the Oilers)," he said with a wide, ear-to-ear grin as others looked on at Arrivals D at EIA. "I want to play in the NHL with any team, because it's a great league and all 30 teams are amazing. But in Edmonton, I see all the young guys that are playing in their first years, so it's nice for me to know that if I get drafted by Edmonton, I'll have a chance to play next year. I'm really looking forward to it.

"(I'm) not nervous now. Every day I'm getting more and more excited -- and on (June 22), I'll be so excited and a little bit nervous. I hope my name will go first."

On Thursday, Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray is scheduled to arrive in Edmonton for a similar visit.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
2014 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE
INSIDE THE OILERS
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2013 - WHO THE OILERS PICKED
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