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What do we really have in Mikhail Grabovski?

Full disclosure:  I’m not a Grabovski guy.  (Kulemin, yes…a lot of other guys are getting there for me, but Grabbo, honestly, no.)

Why not?  I’m not really sure.  I didn’t think I had a bias against any so-called small players.  Heck, Dave Keon was my all-time favorite Leaf, and even for his day, he was small.  Gilmour was tiny but mighty.  These days, Martin St. Louis is still a fantastic player.  I liked Kyle Wellwood when he was here.  So it can’t be that.

Besides, Grabovski isn't that small, at 5 feet 11 inches and 183 pounds.

And Grabovski can skate.  He actually flies around the ice when he is not being checked closely.  He can make plays.  The Toronto media is even beginning to refer to he and his line mates (MacArthur and Kulemin) as the so-called “number-one” line, whether Wilson ever declares that or not.

They certainly have been a ‘first’ line, in terms of delivering offense on a relatively consistent basis so far this season.  And they have also been, especially Grabovski, “plus” players—no small feat on a team that, until Monday’s game, was dragging quite badly in terms of goal differential.

So what’s my problem?  It probably isn’t fair, and it’s not a exactly statistically sound analysis, I well realize, but I’m just not a Grabbo supporter.  I mean, I want him to play well, because it helps the Leafs.  But I don’t have that “feeling”, if you know what I mean.

(It’s a bit like that classic TV episode of Frasier.  His radio station hires a focus group, and Frasier watches from behind a window as these strangers make comments about him and his radio show.  Every single person raves about how great his show is, except for one quiet guy, who has to be prodded to say anything at all.  When he finally speaks and declares his lack of fondness for the show, when pushed to explain why, he simply says, “I just don’t like him”.  Frasier spends the rest of the episode trying to track the guy down to find out why.)

Now, I don’t want to say “I don’t like him” because that sounds personal and this is not.  It’s a comment about how I see him with the Leafs.  And I just don’t see him as a first or second line center—current stats to the contrary, I realize.

Is he, and can he be, an offensive contributor in the weak Eastern Conference?  Sure, it would seem so.  I just believe that, come playoff time—if the Leafs ever get that far— or against a good Western Conference team, I just don’t see him as the kind of player who will be able to do the things that have to get done to help the Leafs be successful.

I may be wrong, I realize.  But that’s my sense, my instinct, as I watch him now.

So, I would be interested in hearing from those who follow this site— how do you really feel about what Grabovski (who cost the Leafs a second-round draft choice and turns 27 in January)  can contribute, short—and longer—term?  Is he playing fairly well now, very well, or just OK?

Will he become invisible when the going gets tough and goals are hard to come by as the season grinds on and teams are fighting for playoff berths?  Or will he get better and better and use all his skills and become a valuable all-around player for the Leafs?

Send your comments along.  In the meantime, my “feelings” aside, go Grabbo go.



  1. I really like him. One thing to remember is how good he is at drawing penalties. His penalties drawn versus taken is often near the top of the league. If we actually had a power play worth discussing that would be important.

  2. Grabovski reminds me a little bit of another erstwhile Russian Leaf, Berezin; genuine flashes of brilliance, often remarkable skating, creative playmaking and a frustrating habit of disappearing for long stretches. I'm hoping Grabovski is more consistent, as when he's playing well, he is very good indeed.

  3. He reminds me a little of a Nik Borchevsky kind of player. It's only going to take one huge goal in his career to cement the love.

  4. I feel much the same as you, Michael. When Grabbo makes the switch from 'key cog' to 'supporting cast member', I feel it will signify the end of the rebuild and the true start to the pursuit of the Cup. My main beef with Grabbo is his physical presence. Sure, he shows remarkable resilience in getting back up after punishing hits, time and again, without injury. I'd just prefer to see him spend less time on his ass in the first place.

  5. All fair comments about Grabbo's good qualities. I also am on side with Kohma- and maybe he's put his finger on it. For me, Grabovski can't be your first or second line guy on a really good team. As long as he is, the Leafs are not, to me, where they need to be. But he is a good NHL player, who contributes quite a lot sometimes.

  6. I don't really like him... maybe because he's originally from Montreal (when I first heard about the trade I thought "There MUST be something wrong with him, why wouldn't Montreal want to keep him?).

    After seeing him play for a couple of seasons, it seems like he's a pretty fragile player (doesn't utilize his linemates enough, has the tendancy to do too much by himself, unwilling to take a hit to protect the puck... i.e. Nashville game, etc.)

    Although he has been brilliant at times, I still think we should sell high, trade him while he's hot (same logic goes for McArthur), because their not the type of players the Leafs should build their future around... their more like role-players

  7. I dont like him. And he is nowhere near Borshevski or Berezin. To me he looks occasionally selfish and on some nights not involved. No matter how good his stats are. I cant see myself ever liking him even if he puts up 70 points in successive seasons.

  8. Couldn't disagree with this article more. In my mind Grabovski is one of the most consistent competitors on the team — gives 100% every shift, quick and strong on the puck, tough in the corners, and isn't afraid to take a hit to make a play. He has also been very resilient after taking some pretty big lashes. Bottom line, Grabbo is a tough guy to play against — exactly what you need in the playoffs.

  9. This is one of the fascinating things about being a Leaf fan, or a fan in general, I guess. Different people who watch the team closely can see the same player so very differently.

  10. Love him. He works hard every night, even when he's on a cold streak, and has improved drastically over his three years in T.O.. I certainly cannot see him as a number 1 centre on a good team, but I think he makes a solid number 2, as long as he continues to develop. We have to remember here that he's only in his third full season in the NHL.

    I would agree that he needs to stay on his skates more, but disagree that he's afraid to take the body. He's gotten good at retrieving his (or his team-mates) turnovers by digging in the corners and keeping his stick on the ice.

    And, come on, his interviews are 100% pure awesome.

  11. I think he is fast and has a high skill level, but is still learning how to utilize it. Kind of like Kessel, he needs to find a way to get some skating room and then- look out! But would I trade Grabbo and Kaberle for Richards?? in a heartbeat..

  12. Though I understand the raw sentiment behind this post I think it'd be pretty delusional to say Grabovski isn't deserving of a 2nd line center spot on any team lacking Crosby/Malkin/Staal down the middle at the moment. At the end of the season when the dust settles? Sure, maybe. But not when he competes as hard as he does every night, draws as many penalties as he does, and is currently putting up a 65 point clip for the season

  13. If Grabbo is your first line guy I agree that's not good. If he's your second line guy? That's fine.

    'he's a pretty fragile player'


    'No matter how good his stats are.'

    I like that people are honest, such as yourself Michael, that they just don't like him as a person. At least that makes sense rather than making patently untrue statements about his play.

  14. I like him. He's fast, he works hard, he's got a fair bit of offensive skill and he's just a little bit crazy. I think he's a good checker, not in the sense of being a heavy hitter but in terms of using body position to insinuate himself between an opponent and the puck.
    I don't think he's a guy who you can expect to create a lot of offense single-handedly and I wouldn't want to rely on him for the bulk of my scoring but I'm comfortable with Grabbo on the second scoring line.