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Two Former Avalanche Forwards Thriving In The KHL



Kamenev nhl avalanche

If you can’t stick in the NHL, there’s still plenty of ways to have a successful pro career, especially if you’re Russian.

That’s been the case for two former Colorado Avalanche forwards.

Mikhail Grigorenko and Vladislav Kamenev, both of whom were acquired by the Avalanche in two of their biggest trades over the last decade, were never able to lock down full-time spots in the NHL. If someone from North America was in a similar situation, they might stick in the AHL, hoping for another shot in the big leagues while riding the bus.

Russians, however, have an easy fallback option if they don’t see a path forward in North America.

That fallback would be the KHL.

And for both Grigorenko and Kamenev, the decision to return home seems to have been the correct one for both of them.

Grigorenko came into the NHL with some hype, as he was the 12th overall pick way back in 2012 by the Buffalo Sabres. The highly touted forward played for Patrick Roy in the QMJHL, and when things didn’t work out in Buffalo, he got a second chance with the Avalanche.

A bit of a “throw-in” on the Ryan O’Reilly trade, he was reunited with Roy at the NHL level. There were flashes, but not a lot of consistency. In an Avalanche uniform, his most memorable moments might have been putting an end to the P.K. Subban era in Montreal, and scoring 6 goals in the preseason prior to the horrific 2016-17 season.

Not exactly the most dynamic highlight reel.

I liked Grigorenko. He was a smart player who obviously had a ton of skill, but you could see why it never really worked in the NHL. His skating left a lot to be desired, and for a big guy, he was pretty easy to play against. While he did give it another shot in the NHL with the Blue Jackets back in 2020-21, he’s mostly played in the KHL for the last 7 years.

And he’s carved out one heck of a career over there.

Since leaving the Avalanche in 2017, he’s won a Gold Medal at the Olympics, and three KHL championships with CSKA Moscow. He’s not exactly been a fringe player, either. This past season, he was selected as the MVP of KHL Playoffs. In total, he’s picked up 198 points in 252 games in Russia.

Now 29, I can’t imagine he’ll give the NHL another chance, not with all of his success in the KHL.

For Vladislav Kamenev, things went a little differently in North America. A solid player in the AHL, the move from Nashville to Colorado was supposed to be his big opportunity to break into the NHL.

However, right from game one with the Avalanche, luck was not on his side. After catching a pass in the neutral zone in his first game in Colorado, he took a massive open ice hit from Brooks Orpik. That hit, more or less, ended his season, as it broke his forearm.

It would be a similar story the next year. Although he made it through the first few months of the season, a shoulder injury ended his season in December.

I remember watching Kamenev skate by himself while the Avalanche were in the playoffs those years. You could tell he wasn’t an option, and the injuries kind of left him on an island. No coach is going to insert a player whose missed months right into the biggest games of the year.

I had a few chats with Kamenev during his time in Colorado. He was a shy guy with a microphone in his face, and claimed to not know a lot of English, but he always did fine when I’d talk to him. And with his teammates, he was happy-go-lucky guy.

The next year, he couldn’t lock down a spot, and eventually made his way back to Russia. It’s not like he didn’t really get a chance with the Avalanche, as he did dress in 64 games over the span of 3 seasons. The move to the KHL was probably the best decision he could have made, though. The last two years, he’s played on a team with Grigorenko, and has won back-to-back KHL titles.

If you follow him on Instagram, you can see he’s pretty happy with where he’s at in life. It looked like he had quite the tour with the Gagarin Cup this past summer. Technically, the Avalanche hold his rights until June 30, 2024, but I have to imagine a return is highly unlikely.

As for a return to the NHL? He turned 27 on Saturday, so I’d say it’s more likely than Grigorenko, but I still wouldn’t count on it.

Both these talented players were never able to break through in the NHL, but have had plenty of success overseas. Sometimes leaving the best league in the world still works out.

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