Kukla's Korner

The Sabres Observer

From One Russian To Another

A top prospect from Russia, a highly touted Sabres draft pick, puts on an impressive display as his team medals at the World Juniors.  Seemingly no time later, it’s opening day in the NHL - and he’s in the lineup to start his first season of facing the fiercest opposition the world has to offer. 

This seemingly prodigal talent, brought in to help a Buffalo team in need of scoring while struggling just to master the English language, is suddenly carrying the weight of lofty expectations.

As I’m sure you’ve deduced, I’m referring to Alexander Mogilny and his ballyhooed arrival in Buffalo in 1989. 

GM Gerry Meehan and Head of Player Development Don Luce had snuck the defector out of Sweden in the dead of night, right under legendary Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov’s nose.  What followed was a surreal press conference in Buffalo to announce Mogilny's escape, and then the highly anticipated Sabres opener on October 5, 1989.

I was actually in the old Aud that night, up in the corner orange seats, and can still remember the electric atmosphere of anticipation.  We all knew he had ridiculous talent but didn't really know what to expect of Mogilny in a Sabres jersey.  Sure enough, it took him all of 20 seconds in the National Hockey League to score his first goal.  It seemed pretty clear then that the sky was the limit for him.

Fast forward to tomorrow, to a little past 12:30 pm, to be exact.  Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo’s first round draft pick and 12th overall in 2012, will graduate from playing against athletically inferior teenagers to sharing the ice with the likes of guys named Giroux, Hartnell and Timonen. 

Sabres fans are torn between tempering their typically elevated expectations and imagining the possibility that their team may have its hands on an elite mega-star scoring center in the making.

The parallels here are noteworthy for one simple reason, and it actually doesn’t have to do with nationality.  Tomorrow’s game in Buffalo will feature the most anticipated debut of a Sabres draft pick since Mogilny’s grand entrance almost 25 years ago.

Since that time, no arrival of a Sabres draft pick to the NHL has garnered as much excitement in Buffalo.  Thomas Vanek brought a lot of fanfare, but we were slightly desensitized to the mystique since he spent some time in Rochester.  Most Sabres greats of the 90’s and 2000’s, like Hasek, LaFontaine, Briere and Drury, weren’t homegrown.

As it turned out, Mogilny fared pretty well in his career.  He racked up over 1000 points, enjoyed an incredible 76-goal season, was a six-time NHL All Star, had his name enshrined on the Stanley Cup (albeit not as a Sabre), and was inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame.

Now, it’s Grigorenko’s turn.  Not that I have a problem tempering my typically elevated expectations or anything.

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]