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Apr 18, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner (40) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. New York defeated Toronto 5-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Isles X-Factor: Michael Grabner

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Every team relies on more than just one player. In the case of the New York Islanders, John Tavares is the main piece that keeps the wheels spinning on Long Island, but one mustn’t lose sight of reality: the Islanders, like any other team, are deeper than just one player.

That’s right. While the Islanders would seem to be doomed without their superstar, it wouldn’t be fair to say Tavares is the only reason for the franchise’s turnaround. Other pieces, such as Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, were arguably just as important (if not more so) to the team’s success down the stretch of the season.

Looking forward to the 2013-14 season, the Islanders are going to need several other pieces to step up in their roles; otherwise, a playoff berth may not be attainable for a second consecutive year. Without further ado, I’d like to present out Eyes on Isles’ “X-Factor” series, where we will take a deeper look at individual vital cogs, analyzing their importance to any potential Islanders playoff run. Today, we look at the importance of Michael Grabner.

We love Grabner. He’s the fastest player in the National Hockey League, he plays responsibly in his own end, and he handles penalty-kill duties. We know what he brings to the table every shift that he steps on the ice. In my mind he is the élite third-line player.

Wait, what?

That’s right, folks. Michael Grabner is not a sure-fire top-six forward. In my opinion, he should be seen as an essential piece to the Islanders puzzle for the upcoming season, but in no way should he been seen as anything more than a phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal, 3rd-line winger. Of course, Grabner’s speed and anticipatory ability gives him an edge over most other players in similar roles, creating an ample amount of chances for the Islanders “star.” The only problem here is that ‘Grabs’ at times is hard-pressed to convert on those chances, and a good minority of the Islanders offense relies on that he does.

We saw it in 2011-12. One year after his torrid 34-goal rookie campaign, Grabner’s production dropped when the Islanders offense was partly built around him. No upgrades were deemed necessary for the Islanders group of forwards during the summer of 2011, as he broke out as a Calder finalist, and an exciting one at that. The season proved to be a bit of a disappointment though, and his 14-goal drop-off proved to be too much for the Islanders to overcome. Long Island’s hockey team became one of the least explosive offenses in the NHL.

Come the lockout shortened season, Grabner rediscovered his scoring touch. In 45 regular season games, he potted 16 goals, only 4 fewer than his 78-game total in 2011-12. He was converting on a multitude of chances that he wasn’t converting on during the previous season. On pace for 29 goals over an 82-game season (with less ice time), Grabner was producing like the player he was expected to be.

With a little over one month to go before the start of the regular season, the Islanders find themselves in a similar situation to the one they found themselves in during the summer of 2011. Michael Grabner and the rest of the Islanders offense are one of the most formidable scoring machines in the league. This can all fall apart, however, if the Islanders don’t get that added secondary scoring from the team’s fastest player.

The puck is on your stick, Michael Grabner. The Islanders and their fans depend on another big season from the Gremlin.

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-CT

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Tags: Michael Grabner New York Islanders NHL

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