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Grabovski: where does he fit—first line, second line? Career heading up, or down?

There’s little question that one of the glee-inspiring surprises for devoted Maple Leaf fans last season was the (sudden?  unexpected? shocking?) emergence of none other than Mikhail Grabovski.

Now, as those of you have visit this site fairly regularly well realize, I was among the “converts” last season.  That is, a little over a year ago, I did not even believe Grabovski would be (or should be) on the roster.  I had assumed that, based on his rather under-whelming performance in blue and white (and his little issue at the Olympics in Vancouver) the Leaf brass would wash their hands of a guy whose main skill seemed to be irritating (or being irritated by) some former teammates whenever he played against the Canadiens.

Oh, he had shown flashes of skill, sure, but most NHL’ers do, eh?

He just seemed to be a player that had his moments, but was generally over-matched.  I saw him as just another small skill guy, but not exactly a center who inspired fear in the other team, or required “game-planning” from the opposition.

Then came 2010-’11.  At first I thought what I was observing was a mirage.  Then I thought it was an interesting streak of nice, better-than-expected play.  Eventually I gave up and came to believe that what I was seeing was legitimate.  Grabovski was not only one of those small, fast, shifty guys (that was supposed to be better in the more open ice of the “new” NHL) but he had heart, played with an edge, and actually made players around him better.

And he kept doing that pretty much through the entire season.

So here I sit, along with Leaf fans everywhere, looking ahead with optimism but trying to be realistic about the new season just ahead.  I love what Grabbo did last year.  It wasn’t just his “stats” but what I saw him do.  He played with a feistiness that I enjoyed.  He was often difficult to play against.  He was generally responsible at both ends of the ice.  

He may have been one of the top ten centres in hockey.

And he was a brave little guy, too. We all remember his getting hammered by big Chara in Boston, and coming back with outstanding plays to help the Leafs win a game against the eventual Stanley Cup champions in their own rink.  And that was just one example of his new-found quiet leadership.

So, I wonder now, who is Mikhail Grabovski?  Is he the guy I saw in Montreal, Hamilton (AHL) and his first two seasons in Toronto—a nice little player who did some good stuff and could make plays for linemates, but was maddeningly inconsistent?

Or, is he the more industrious, tougher, much more noticeable and consistent version I saw last season, who still produced points but was also solid “plus” player (+14 on the season) as well?

I realize that even in his “break-out” campaign last season, he only earned one more assist than he did in his first full NHL season with the Leafs in 2008-’09.  So as I take a sober second look now, am I deceiving myself into thinking this guy has really “changed”, that he is indeed that much better a player than he had been before?

He played mostly with Kulemin and MacArthur, and they helped him, maybe as much as he helped them.  But isn’t that always the way when linemates mesh well together?

So here’s what I am wondering with training camp just around the corner.  Grabovski is coming off his first what I would call “impact” season as an NHL player.  (I thought he should have been the team’s All-Star representative over Kessel, but that's a debate for another day.)  Again, I’m talking about more than stats, but his overall effectiveness and presence on the ice.

Where does he go from here?  Does he get better and better, or does he, having gained a bit of notoriety in hockey’s biggest market, settle back into being just a nice little player?

Is he a first-liner, or at least a “1A”?  Does he command ice time, because Wilson just has to put him out there in key situations?

Or does he became a little less visible, a little less motivated, a little less effective?

My sense is this:  the guy has matured.  He now, as we like to say, “gets it”.  He understands what it takes to be better than just OK at the NHL level.  And he will want to continue feeling good about his play.

He's a proud guy.

So, I think he steps forward and pushes to see “his” line fight for first-line status, and first-line attention, responsibility and ice-time.

What do you think?


  1. He's the real deal, Michael. He's (and Kulemin, I believe) working out with Datsyuk like last summer, which produced such resiliency and power for those two last year. I hope he resigns as long as BB will let him. Plus, I think it may be time to put a little money where your heart is-
    And you get to help out a fellow Leaf fan artist. ;) I have the original on my wall.

  2. I remember a mention of Grabbo working with Datsyuk last off-season, though I can't find anything more than a Mirtle article about how Hunter coached Grabbo using clips of Datsyuk's play. Either way, if he molds himself after that kind of player, and continues to work hard, who knows what kind of career this guy has ahead of him.

    All I know is that I love watching him play.

  3. we should sign him for 4.5-5 mil for 4 years. To me, hes probably the best 2nd line centre in the league.

  4. I'm not sold on him yet, and to be honest a little worried about resigning him next year. I can see him as a player wanting a lot more then he deserves. We'll see

  5. Real deal. I followed this guy before he came from MTL and thought he would have been a steal if traded as a part of a deal for Sundin.
    From his arrival I said he was within 3 years of scoring 30 goals, and he only fell one short. So watch him this year, a contract year, he should be something.

  6. I think he's the real deal, and if his line mates continue developing their chemistry, they'll be a 2nd line as good as any.

  7. News Bulletin:
    While last year was Grabovski's best, it wasn't really his breakout year. His breakout year was his first full NHL season when he came over to the blue and white. Just because the mainstream media and half the fans didn't see it isn't Mikhail's fault. Ron Wilson saw it. I saw it (right hand over left shoulder and pat several times), and I have to believe that Burke saw it. Grabovski has helped Hagman, Kulemin, and MacArthur have career seasons. He is a plus player. Even when he was straddled with poor linemates two years ago, he still did all right. If you didn't see it, well to bad for you. Last year he developed a shot and became a scoring threat. The guy is on the up and if the Leafs don't sign him to big bucks they are making a huge mistake.