Thursday, May 10, 2007

Red Wings sign prospect Igor Grigorenko

By Ansar Khan, Booth Newspapers

Six years after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings and four years after his near-fatal car accident in Russia, Igor Grigorenko is finally coming to North America.

The 5-foot-10, 209-pound left wing is no longer the Wings' top prospect, but he still has an intriguing set of skills. Next season, the Wings will see if he's ready to play in the NHL. The club has signed Grigorenko to a one-year entry level contract worth $858,800. He'll be competing for a job in training camp in Traverse City this fall.

"He was a real top prospect for us a number of years ago but unfortunately had that accident,'' Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He's had a couple of years where he's been able to play and get healthy. We feel it's time to come over and see where he's at.''

The Wings selected Grigorenko with the 62nd overall pick (second round) in the 2001 draft. He was one of the top players in the Russian Elite League before sustaining a broken left femur and two fractures in his left tibia when he lost control of his car on a rain-slicked highway on May 16, 2003. He nearly died in the hospital after sustaining a fat embolism in his lung, but he recovered from his injuries well enough to resume his hockey career in Russia in December 2003.

"He's got great hands, a goal-scoring touch. He can drive to the net, he's hard to knock around, he's so solid,'' Holland said. "Skating was the only part of his game he had to improve on. Obviously, the accident set him back.''

Before the accident, Grigorenko was talented enough to play on the same line with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk in the 2003 World Hockey Championship.

"When you bring a European player over you never know, but we feel the timing is right and he's as healthy as he's ever been,'' Holland said. "How's his speed going to be and how's he going to react to physical play?''

Grigorenko, 24, signed a two-way contract, meaning he'll make considerably less in the minors (about $70,000). However, he has a clause in the deal that allows him to return to Russia after spending about three weeks with the Wings' AHL affiliate, Grand Rapids, at the start of the season if he doesn't earn a spot on the NHL roster.


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