Michael Grabner could help rejuvinate the third line

Bobby Bevilacqua

michael grabner TOR.jpg

Photo courtesy of John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Gorton didn’t have the same cap space and maneuverability as many of the other GMs in the league, forcing him to make a lot of under the radar, bottom six moves to try and improve the Rangers.

Given the fact that his hands were tied behind his back, Gorton did an excellent job with what he was given, signing quality players on the cheap like Nathan Gerbe, Josh Jooris, Adam Clendening and Nick Holden.

But my favorite signing of the bunch was Michael Grabner, the speedy 28-year old Austrian who played with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Formerly a Calder Trophy finalist with the Islanders in the 2010-11 season, Grabner has more recently been used as a third and fourth line forward who excels on the penalty kill.

When Gorton made the signing, that area of Grabner’s playstyle is what he was most likely enticed by. The Rangers finished 26th in the league with a penalty kill percentage of 78.2%, over a 6 percent drop from the season prior. But Grabner is a lot more valuable than just a fourth line penalty killer.

Back in his rookie season, Grabner was a top six player with the Islanders, playing with guys like John Taveres, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Moulson in his prime. Granted, that level of talent around him certainly contributed to his production, but scoring 34 goals and 52 points in his first full NHL season is no easy feat.

He hasn’t come close to that level of production since then, but Grabner has had some good offensive seasons following his rookie year, scoring 20, 16 and 12 goals in the years following that. But since he brings a lot of versatility and other skills to the rink, his drop in offensive production doesn’t take away from his value.

For next season, the Rangers top two lines are basically set. You can probably assume that Derek Stepan centers Rick Nash and JT Miller, while Mike Zibanejad will center Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. The wings are interchangeable and the combinations will switch, but those players will probably remain constant.

When it comes to the bottom six, that’s where questions lie. Kevin Hayes had a solid second season, but certainly didn’t produce at the level some fans had hoped for. A lot of that can be attributed to two things; one was his constant movement around the lineup, never letting him settle in to one spot or role, and the other is the drop in talent on his wings.

When Kevin Hayes was centering the third line in his rookie season, he regularly played with Carl Hagelin and JT Miller. This year, he played with Viktor Stalberg and Jesper Fast, who are both more suited to a fourth line role.

Personally, I believe that Hayes belongs at center and that is where he should stay and develop. He is near the top of the league in primary assists since the beginning of his NHL career, he’s very smart and savy with the puck and knows how to serve as a playmaker. On top of that, his size and strength is a huge asset in the middle of the ice.

An increase in the quality of his linemates, as well as putting him with players that best suit his playstyle, will help him return to his rookie season form and help the Rangers become dangerous when every line is on the ice.

Hayes will already have one really good winger by his side; Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich is practically a lock to make the roster out of training camp, and he will make his NHL debut after spending the last three full seasons in the KHL, totaling 87 points (37-50-87) in 158 games. He has great offensive instincts and a strong, accurate shot, and I’m guessing that he totals around 35 points.

What was missing from the third line was a player like Carl Hagelin. Hags was good at driving possession, defensively responsible, and his speed put tons of pressure on the opposition, opening up lanes and opportunities for his teammates. Stalberg was somewhat serviceable in this role, but not nearly as consistent or effective as Hagelin was.

This isn’t to say that Grabner is at the same level as Hagelin but I think that his skillset and playstyle could help serve that same role and fill the gap that was on that line all season long.

Grabner is very fast, and it’s one of his trademark skills since he’s entered the league. He may be a little faster than Stalberg was and his skating will be able to pressure defenseman, create odd man rushes and give that line added depth. On top of that, he’s very good defensively which will take pressure off of Kevin Hayes and more importantly, off of Pavel Buchnevich as he adapts to a new type of hockey.

And while it’s unreasonable to expect another 30 goal season from him, it’s not unreasonable to think that he will put up more than the 18 points (9-9-18) than he did last season. Toronto was a bad offensive team in terms of scoring and possession, and that played into Grabner’s stat line. Given a more offensive role on a better team with better teammates, and he could be looking at anywhere from 20-35 points again.

Grabner was signed to be a depth piece and a penalty killer, but given the right opportunity, he can be much more than that for the Rangers. With the right line pairings, Grabner could be key to helping AV’s squad be a true four line team yet again.

Posted on August 5, 2016, in In the Crease, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. i think there is a typo in the title. I think you meant to say
    “Tanner Glass could help rejuvinate the third line (through overall subtraction)”


  1. Pingback: Jeff Gorton deserves credit for a successful offseason |

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