Patrick Roy knows better than most what makes a great hockey player, so it's no small thing to hear the Hall of Fame goaltender and current head coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts gush about Mikhail Grigorenko, his new star player.
In fact, Roy is so high on the 17-year-old Russian that he traded up -- not once, but twice -- in June's CHL import draft in order to land the 6-foot-2, 191-pound center.
"I know that 'Grigo' is a very solid player," Roy says of Grigorenko, who has drawn comparisons to former Rempart and Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov. "He's as good as 'Radu' was, probably at 17."
But sheer skill wasn't the only thing that made Grigorenko a must-have for Roy, who won four Stanley Cups during his legendary playing career.
"He's focusing as much on defense as offense, and you don't see that very often from a Russian player," Roy says.
"He wants to play both sides of the ice, and I was very impressed by that."
Grigorenko has long impressed New York Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark. Clark instructed his European scouts to follow the former CSKA Moscow prospect three years ago. He got a chance to watch him play with his own eyes at April's Under-18 IIHF World Championships in Germany, where Grigorenko finished second among Russia's scorers -- ahead of teammate Nail Yakupov, the projected top pick in next year's NHL draft.
"He absolutely dominated," says Clark, who expects more of the same in the Quebec league this season. "I think he'll dominate there, too."
If the offensive-minded QMJHL is the ideal league for Grigorenko to learn the North American game, the Remparts might be the perfect franchise. The team averages around 10,000 fans a game at the Colisee, and geographically, it's centrally located in the circuit, making it easy for NHL scouts to attend home games. But Radulov, who smashed the club's single-season scoring mark on the way to the 2006 Memorial Cup title, might have sold the teenager with a glowing report on his former home.
"He said that I would not be disappointed to go to Quebec," said Grigorenko, who speaks little English and no French, to the city's Le Soleil newspaper through a translator Aug. 21, the day he arrived in the provincial capital. "He told me that I would be very happy here."
He'll certainly get lots of ice time. In addition to playing pivot on the Remparts' top line, Grigorenko is also expected to anchor Quebec's power play, both from the point and the half-wall. He's an underrated playmaker who can make passes on his backhand as well as forehand, and already has an NHL-ready wrist shot according to Roy, who is clearly an authority on the subject.
What's more, Grigorenko has the size and strength to play a more physical game when necessary, which should come in handy as he adapts to the smaller ice surface -- his biggest challenge this season.
"Ours is less of a weaving-type of hockey and more of a straight line, up and down the ice, stops and starts-style because of the ice [size]," says Remparts assistant Martin Laperriere. "Once he gets familiar with that, I think he's going to improve."
Laperriere has proved prophetic in the early going. In Grigorenko's first three games this season, he was minus-4 and managed just a lone assist. Since then he's leapt into the team lead for points with 18, including nine goals.
"Russians are the hardest ones to project," Clark says. "They seem to have more problems adjusting to the culture. The Russians are so trained in their own hockey's ways that it takes a while to change those things."
Still, Roy remains sold.
"He's here for one reason, and that's to become a hockey player," says Roy. "He's got a great approach, and he wants to do everything well. It's easy to see that this guy will play in the show one day."