Fans Can Expect Better from Michael Grabner
To start off, no, Michael Grabner has not necessarily been a disappointment for the Islanders in the past two years. Grabner set expectations through the roof in his rookie year, right after the Islanders plucked him off waivers, with 34 goals and 52 points in 76 games. In the two full seasons since (excluding his 16 goals in 45 games lockout year), Grabner has only reached the 20 goal plateau once (in 2011-2012), and only notched 12 goals in 64 games last year. Grabner has been a vital penalty killer and speedy forward for the Islanders over his career here, and has always done what is expected in the defensive category. But this season, you can look for Grabner to regain his scoring touch, in many of ways.
First things first, Grabner finally has a legitimate center and linemates for himself. Grabner will most likely start on the third line with Josh Bailey, and either center Frans Nielsen, the more likely option, or Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski had 35 points in 58 games last year, and Nielsen had a career high of 58 points in 80 games last year. Grabner was stuck on a line for most of last year with Cal Clutterbuck, Peter Regin, Brock Nelson, and the occasional Colin McDonald, he never had those true linemates that he needs. In the late, injury plagued stretch of the year, Grabner did play with Nielsen, where he seemed to find his scoring touch again, for a brief period. Grabner and Nielsen both could see playing time together on the penalty kill next year as well. Grabner will also have a new PK instructor, as Brent Thompson from last year has gone off to coach the Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate.
Grabner has also found a better knack for 5 v 5 play in the recent seasons as well. Last year, he put up a CF% of 50.8% (go to ExtraSkater.com for an explanation on advanced stats). I’m not going to dive too deep into this, but essentially, Grabner had been on the ice last season for just about as many shots for by his team than shots against his team, good for an even puck possession time. To put that against the other Islanders, Grabner ranks 7th on the team for CF% (min. 30 games played), behind Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Strome, and Peter Regin. League wide, Grabner ranks among Ryan Callahan and Mike Cammalleri in the 200 ranks. Although nothing special, Grabner had been above average in puck possession time for the Islanders last year, especially with some of the players he lined up with at the end of the season. With better linemates, a healthy team and added depth to take some of the work load off, Grabner’s numbers have no where to go but up next year.
There’s lots of things to be excited about next season, and Michael Grabner is one of them. If he can regain his rookie or even sophomore year form, Grabner will once again become a lethal asset for the Islanders. Even if his stats and goals might not be there with 3rd line and penalty kill time, a re-vamped Grabner can add something special to put this team over the top.