Throughout the season, there's always that player who goes through several games and you try to catch lighting in a bottle for your roster so that it can make a little nudge on your team's stats. However, once reality sets in and that player is back to where they were before, you dump them to FA and find the next guy that can nudge your team some more. In the case of Michael Grabner, this may not be such a simple case of catching lighting in a bottle. Despite seemingly not doing well for some of last season with the Canucks and most of this season with the Islanders, Grabner had someone put something in his Wheaties and suddenly is the hottest player in the NHL for the past four weeks. Early on, it may have been too quick to judge him a simple streak and dump once reality sets in because his history seems to suggest that the early part of his season may have been out of the norm and we may be seeing a preview of things to come for the rookie who's making big things happen for an Islanders team that is struggling to find their footing as a franchise.
I'll tell you why after the jump...
Grabner's skill level can best be looked at through his time in the AHL. During his first year with the Manitoba Moose in 2007-08, he was decent with 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 74 games of the regular season and 3 goals in 6 games in the playoffs. In the next season, it was a shining moment of his capabilities throughout the AHL. He still only made 47 points (30 goals, 18 assists) but he also did an amazing +22 in 66 games and took the team to the Finals, contributing 17 points (10 goals, 7 assists) and a +11 in 20 games. The Canucks finally gave him a chance that next year but only played 20 games at the pro level, contributing 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) and played 38 games for the Moose and making 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists). Grabner was then traded to Florida for other players in June and this opening the path for him to finally contribute to the pro level. In the first 37 games, he was practically non-existent with 12 points (9 goals, 3 assists). But somehow since that time in 13 games, he has been in an absolute tear with 18 points (12 goals, 6 assists) and an amazing 55 shots in that span or about 3 shots per game. This could finally be the time that we've waited to see since he was drafted 14th overall by the Canucks back in 2006.
So what kind of player are we dealing with here? Grabner has two assets: speed and skill. For his speed, all you have to see is this video of the SkillsSkills Competition during the 2011 All-Star weekend:
He beat out everyone, including fellow rookie Taylor Hall and won the fastest skater award. But you can be the fastest skater in the world and it won't amount to jack if you can't do anything with the puck. Thankfully, his skill balances that out. He has a natural tendency to stickhandle quite well despite going at top speed and even making tricky shots at opposing goalies making him quite dangerous on breakaways and even when passes are given to him. He's even done well in special team situations as a he's contributed in both Power Play Points but Short Handed Points. The fact that he can attack on any situation makes his just plain dangerous anytime he is out on the ice and has the puck. The trouble with any player like him is that the defensive side of his game is lacking despite playing so many games in the AHL and NHL so far. Another issue is that during his time in the AHL and even in the NHL so far, he an incredibly streaky player in production and has been benched at times during his time with the Moose because of lack of production. However, he does have youth on his side being only 23 years old and can develop both of these shortcomings over time. Fortunately, he's playing for an Islanders team that needs the offensive support in needs to help their other young players on their roster. This means that if he can contribute offensively, I'm sure the coach and the staff can overlook his defensive shortcomings.
That said, Grabner is quite for real in his current production and if he hasn't already, he certainly warrants your roster space to ride the hot streak while it's hot and help make that push for your team. However, you should be wary of his streakiness for being a rookie and be sure to bench him quickly before he harms your team but not necessarily dump him to FA since his talent can easily put him right back where he left off.