This will be my third prospect report on Grebyonkin this season. The first came early in the KHL season:
The second came a month later, when it seemed like he was finding his groove and settling into a regular role on the team.
While there was only one month between those two posts, it has now been three months since the last one. The reason for that is... not much had changed from the second report, and in truth there still hasn't been all that much that has changed. But I wanted to provide an update all the same because my thoughts on him and his future have solified somewhat, and he's also been on a tear that's worth mentioning as well.
STATS & CONTEXT
Contextually, not much has changed since the last prospect report on Grebyonkin. He's still mostly being bounced around the top 9, but what has settled is his special team usage. He's getting regular minutes on the powerplay, with the team running a bit of a 1A/1B setup than something like the Maple Leafs giving most minutes to the top unit. He's also stopped playing on the penalty kill virtually altogether.
On the powerplay, he's found a role playing in front of/around/behind the net. It uses a good mix of his skills, while helping him develop his net-front play for things like deflections, screens, and so on. But he also plays almost like a bumper style role in how he distributes the puck, but from right in front of the net instead of higher in the slot.
The powerplay time has helped him with Grebyonkin's production, which has been very streaky this season. He is currently in a stretch of 15 points in 14 games. But that came after a stretch of only 2 points in 13 games. On the season, he has 14 goals and 31 points in 53 games – all career highs. While his point per game pace is virtually the same (a bit less, actually), but there are some points of context to keep in mind:
- He's playing an average of 1:50 less per game than last season
- He's also averaging 0:39 less time on the powerplay per game
- He's being tasked with playing a more complete game and playing within a system, and not Amur's very rush-reliant offense while they got outplayed most nights.
Grebyonkin has also been accumulating some honours. He was named to the KHL all-star game, where he had 3 goals and an assist in two games of a 3 on 3 tournament. He also played in an exhibition between a "Russia 25" squad of Russia's top U25 players not in North America, and Team Belarus. In the game he played as the top line right winger.
While I wouldn't say that Grebyonkin has showed a massive leap in his development, he has made some small improvements in multiple areas that will be beneficial for him. His point production may not be showing any growth since last season, but he's looked like an improved player.
First, Grebyonkin is noticeably bigger and stronger and that has been helping him a lot in some key areas. He's quicker and faster as a skater, which is always a plus. He's stronger on his feet and tougher to push around, which helps him a lot in his growing board and net-front game. He's starting to show the willingness and ability to make power moves off the boards and drive with the puck to the net. A slick pair of mittens helps as well.
I'd say his shot is also improved, with more power behind it where last year I've said left a lot to be desired. Mind you, Grebyonkin has continued to develop his offense around everything else except his shot, in terms of dekes, rebounds, deflections, rush chances, and so on. So improving his shot just gives him an additional weapon to keep goalies honest, even if it never becomes a legitimate weapon at the NHL level.
And, if you're into this kind of thing, it's helped him with the physical side of the game – throwing hits, but also throwing fists.
So, where does Grebyonkin go from here? He'll finish up this season with Metallurg, who are currently the best team in the KHL. They will be expected to make a deep playoff run, which will be awesome to see. From what I've seen reported, I believe Grebyonkin's current KHL contract expires after this season. He would be free to come over to North America afterwards.
That means, with an early playoff exit or a deep Marlies playoff run, he could make a brief appearance at the end of the AHL season. That is what other European prospects have done in years past, for example Ovchinnikov last year wound up playing in seven games for the Marlies to finish the season.
To do that, Toronto will first have to sign Grebyonkin to an ELC since he is currently unsigned. They may not sign him until the off season depending on how many contracts they have after the trade deadline. Even if they do sign him to an ELC now, that doesn't necessarily mean he will come to North America for next season. What Toronto has done with other recent Russian prospects they signed to ELCs is to loan them back to their KHL club for one more season – Ovchinnikov, Akhtyamov, and (cries) Amirov all went through this process.
Personally? I think he's ready for the AHL. I thought he was already better than Ovchinnikov last season, and I certainly think that now. If he can be an All Star in the KHL, even if the league has been quite diluted in talent and competition the past several years, then I think he can hang in the AHL. I most want him to be working with Toronto's development and skills coaches every day to help him further refine what he's been working on and improving.