Liv likely to jump the pond, but not Grigorenko

By Zoran Manojlovic

As hockey seasons end across Europe, rumors heat up as to which prospects will sign with their NHL teams. The Detroit Red Wings have several prospects that could be signed and cross the pond to try their luck on North American soil.

Hockey’s Future took some time to talk to Red Wings chief European scout Håkan Andersson about the fate of their prospects for the next season, prior to the first semi-final game between Canada and Finland.

Andersson attended the U-18 World Junior Championships in Ängelholm and Halmstad of southern Sweden, where he was scouting players for the upcoming draft along with assistant GM Jim Nill. Andersson has yet again had a busy season watching lots of games, about 190 so far.

Grigorenko most likely to stay in Russia another year

What seemed as a sure bet is now a long shot. The Red Wings top European prospect, Igor Grigorenko, will most likely stay in Russia for another year according to Andersson.

“He has an offer from Avangard Omsk that would give him $1 million US dollars, tax free. We can’t offer him that money in Detroit.”

Grigorenko’s decision to stay in Russia has several reasons. One is of course money, but Andersson named the other important one. “He really wants his spot back with the national team.”

Grigorenko played a big role on the Russian World Championship team in the 2002-03 season where he played on a line with Wings top center, Pavel Datsyuk and Atlanta’s scoring machine, Ilya Kovalchuk.

This season he has made his comeback with the national team, playing in the pre-Olympics scoring two goals in two games.

Andersson was in attendance at those games and said that he looked very good. He will now fight for a spot on this year’s World Championships, to be held in Latvia in early May.

Grigorenko had a very good season with Severstal in the Russian superleague, leading the team in scoring with 14 goals and 38 points in 54 games. But he’s said to be a bit heavy on his skates and not back to a 100 percent conditioning-wise as prior to his car accident. Andersson confirmed that by saying, “He’s not there yet and lacks his shifty, swift skating, but he’s on the right track.”

He was also quick to say, “His head never left him. His hockey sense and vision are still there.”

His decision to stay another year in Russia could be a good one for both parties. This way Grigorenko gets some financial security as well as a chance to play on one of the best teams in Russia, in addition to being able to put on the sweater of his beloved country on the international stage.

Andersson said, “He’s still just 23 years old. And he wants to play in the NHL.”

Liv is probably the only sure bet

Other prospects that are in contracts consideration are Stefan Liv, Miroslav Blatak, Jari Tolsa, Andreas Jämtin and Jonathan Ericsson.

Stefan Liv is probably the only one that is a sure bet. Andersson said, “He’ll probably be offered a contract. He wants to go and most likely will.”

Liv has had a solid season in Sweden and is ready to come over. He will fight for a backup role on the team, but is likely headed to Grand Rapids for some seasoning.

Blatak who has had a career year in the Czech Extraliga seems to be ready as well.

“He’s now ready mentally and physically, which he wasn’t before,” said Andersson.

In 47 games this season he has put up eight goals and 21 points. His overall game has improved and he’s ready to move on to the next stage in his career. He’s currently with the national team preparing for the WC where he has a shot of making the team. “It depends on how many NHLers they get,” said Andersson.

If signed Blatak would most likely start the season on the farm, but he has NHL upside. Andersson said, “At least he could be a very good defenseman for the Griffins.”

Jämtin and Tolsa are not close to a contract right now and the decision will wait. “Those two are uncertain right now,” said Andersson.

But one player who could be a surprise signing is a player that is a bit of a personal favorite of Andersson, Jonathan Ericsson.

Ericsson could be signed, but it will not be because he’s the most NHL-ready right now. “No, it’s because of his upside,” said Andersson.

Ericsson has good upside and is a very smooth, mobile defenseman who has the ability to move the puck.

As we have stated before here at Hockey’s Future, Ericsson has all the tools to be a solid NHLer but he has to put it all together. The best place for him to do that is in Grand Rapids of the AHL.

One thing is sure though, there are some tough decisions to make this summer regarding European prospects for all teams.

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