Frans Nielsen, Not Mikhail Grabovski, Should Skate with Top Line

Despite the success of the 2014-15 campaign thus far for the New York Islanders, the team’s first line has been in flux for the majority of the season, with no player being able to lock down the wing opposite Kyle Okposo on John Tavares‘ left. Ultimately this is a problem I would like to see General Manager Garth Snow handle at the trade deadline, bringing in an experienced scorer to bolster the Isles’ offensive attack, but until that time the Isles must find an in-house solution to this problem.

So far this season the team has experimented with the likes of Cory Conacher, Nikolay Kulemin, Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner with the top unit. It now seems that Mikhail Grabovski, the Isles’ biggest offensive acquisition of the off-season, will get a chance to win that job, as he was placed with Tavares and Okposo at this morning’s practice. Grabovski got shifts with the top line as Jack Capuano jumbled his lineup in an attempt to create a spark in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, a move which seemingly worked, as Grabovski netted a third period goal.

As a jump start, the ploy worked, but I do not agree with promoting Grabovski to the top unit on a long term basis. Grabvoski was brought to this team in free agency to provide the Islanders with a little bit more offensive punch, so inserting him into a position to play alongside the best the roster has to offer is a logical move, but I do not agree with it in this case.

Grabovski has talent, but he has not produced for the Islanders this season, registering only six goals and eight assists (14 points) in his 37 games in Orange and Blue. That is only one more point than Islander Nation’s public enemy number one, Josh Bailey, and Bailey has played only 28 games this season. Those numbers do not warrant a promotion to first line.

The best options, on paper, for the role are three players that under no circumstances should be split up in Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. All three have come in to their own this season, having breakout seasons playing together on the “Kid Line”. Any one of those three would make more sense than Grabovski alongside Tavares and Okposo, separating the trio that has been the team’s most consistent has been a colossal mistake by Capuano.

So what is the coach to do? Promote Frans Nielsen to the top line, as a temporary solution. The Islanders have multiple centers playing out of their natural positions, moving Nielsen from the middle should not be out of the question, especially with the obvious benefit it will have on the team. Nielsen is fifth on the team with 21 points this season, trailing Tavares, Okposo, Nelson and Strome, with Nelson and Strome being unmoved, Nielsen should be next man up for the first line.

With Nielsen promoted and the third and fourth lines remaining intact, the second line would be comprised of Kulemin, Grabovski and Grabner; with Grabovski returning to center, his natural position.

Nielsen, The Isles’ longest tenured player, has always been an extremely solid two way player, often drawing the assignment of the other team’s top line, a role he can still fill with Tavares and Okposo, as many teams opt to play strength vs. strength. If Capuano does not want to use this new top line against the opponent’s best unit he can deploy the line of Kulemin, Grabovski and Grabner, all extremely responsible defensive players in their own right, to neutralize the other team’s top offensive threat.

This is a move that makes sense for the entire roster, providing balance, infusing offense to the team’s top line and keeping the lines that have performed consistently all season as is.