Michael Grabner

Michael Grabner reflects on his path to the NHL

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There’s a sizable group of players who hope to prove that their breakthrough 2010-11 seasons weren’t flukes, even if many of them already cashed in on their first “hit” seasons. Joel Ward, Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim are just a few of the guys who face the tough task of putting on an encore performance and justifying a significant pay raise, but one of the most interesting cases is that of New York Islanders speedster Michael Grabner.

The Islanders made a significant investment in Grabner, signing him to a five-year, $15 million deal on the heels of a 34-goal season in which he finished as one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy. Grabner’s 2010-11 season went from rough (being traded by the Vancouver Canucks) to humiliating (being waived by the Florida Panthers and picked up by the Islanders) to a stunning success.

Perhaps it was a mere coincidence, but it almost seemed like Grabner’s runaway victory during the 2011 NHL All-Star Game’s fastest skater competition was a coming out party for the speedy sniper. Grabner’s split stats certainly make a case that something changed once 2011 rolled around. After scoring five goals and 11 points in 32 games from October through December 2010, Grabner scored 26 goals and 41 points in 44 games from January to April 2011. John Blanchette elaborates on Grabner’s hot streak.

The early going was still a struggle – the Islanders lost 14 in a row at one point – but he was invited to the SuperSkills competition at the NHL All-Star game in January and won the fastest skater event. And as his ice time grew, so did his impact. Starting in mid-January, he scored 16 goals in a month – including 10 in a stunning six-game stretch. He finished with a rookie-high 34 goals, which earned him third place in the Calder Trophy voting – and that hefty contract.

It might be easy to summarize Grabner’s journey to the NHL through the dramatic highs and lows of his previous season, but Blanchette points out that Grabner struggled in his first year out of Austria with the Spokane Chiefs, something the winger discussed during the team’s training camp.

Grabner was a Chiefs rookie, their first Austrian import, in 2004 who suffered a broken collarbone in his first Western Hockey League shift. It was the job of Kevin Sawyer – then an assistant but himself a former Chief with NHL experience – to skate him back into shape.

“And Michael seriously thought Kevin was trying to kill him,” recalled Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz with a laugh – perhaps hearing Sawyer’s impression of Grabner’s thickly accented moans in his head. “He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to go home.

“But every player has to go through some kind of adjustment here and that was Michael’s – the competitive adjustment. I think he was the best player in Austria – he could skate away from or catch anybody – but he wasn’t ready to be a competitive player like the Canadians who grow up playing bantam and midget hockey in an intense environment.”

Ultimately, Grabner’s career took off the same way his 2010-11 season erupted: with a goal-scoring spree. It’s difficult to say if he will remain a dangerous scorer through the life of his contract. On the bright side, he’s only 23 years old and his shooting percentage (14.9 pct.) wasn’t outrageously high last season. That number will likely go down to somewhere around 10-12 percent next season, but if he keeps firing shots on net (228 in 76 games in 10-11) he should be able to flirt with the 25+ goal mark when healthy. On the other hand, he still has a way to go before he’s a complete player and one season of strong work makes a five-year contract seem like a scary risk.

Either way, Grabner’s faced some turmoil already in his career, so it’s reasonable think that he can shake off a setback or two during the next five seasons.

John Scott wants to make his own World Cup team with Phil Kessel

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPT 22:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs slashes at John Scott #32 of the Buffalo Sabres in a pre-season game on Sept 22, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Sabres 5-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The 2016 All-Star game MVP is interested in making his own World Cup team with the top forward from the 2014 Olympics. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

John Scott took to Instagram to announce that he wanted to join forces with his buddy Phil Kessel. The post was accompanied by a picture of Scott going after Kessel, after this stick-swinging incident from a few years back.

The team doesn’t have a name (Scott says he’s open to suggestions) or any other players, but Scott knows what kind of guys he’s looking for.

“We are looking for guys who want to compete and may have been overlooked in hockey,” said Scott in the post.

Here’s the full post:

This sounds like a really good idea.

Duchene: Avs had ‘a little too much fear’ of losing

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 27:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche skates away as the Detroit Red Wings celebrate the game winning goal by Brad Richards #17 at 19:00 of the third period at Coors Field during the 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series game on February 27, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Red Wings defeated the Avalanche 5-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive season, the Colorado Avalanche missed the playoffs. Granted, they were closer to making them in 2015-16 than they were in 2014-15, but that’s no consolation prize.

The Avalanche were in the thick of the playoff race down the stretch. They battled the Minnesota Wild for the final Wild Card spot in the West, but in the end, they came up five points short. The pressure of the postseason chase may have been a bit too much for them to handle because they went 1-8-0 (yes, you read that correctly) in their final nine games.

Three seasons ago, the Avs surprised many when they won the Central Division by collecting an incredible 112 points. It seemed as though their young roster would be dominant for a number of years. Unfortunately for the Avs, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, forward Matt Duchene believes they need to change their mindset if they want to be back in the playoffs next year.

“We didn’t take control, we didn’t go out there every night with the confidence we needed to win and to go and take what we needed to take,” Duchene said, per the Denver Post. “We had a little too much fear, I think, of losing and what we had to lose and I think that’s something we all can think about this summer. It’s a change of mindset. All the tools are there. We have a very good team, so we want to challenge for a playoff spot next season and hopefully a Stanley Cup.”

Duchene put up some solid numbers this season. He led the Avs in goals (30) and points (57). Those totals were good enough to earn him a spot on Team Canada’s World Cup roster. But overall, the Avs weren’t so good. They ranked 19th in goals scored with 216 and 23rd in goals against with 240.

Improved play in their own end would certainly benefit them and getting a bounce-back year from goalie Semyon Varlamov would definitely help too. The 28-year-old had a 2.81 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage in 57 games.

Is time running out for head coach Patrick Roy? Another lackluster regular season in 2016-17 may lead to some significant changes.

Matt Nieto should be available to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 03:  Matt Nieto #83 of the San Jose Sharks skates against the Nashville Predators during the second period of Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 3, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks are confident that forward Matt Nieto will be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Whether he actually plays or not is a different story.

The 23-year-old suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of San Jose’s second round series against Nashville and he hasn’t suited up since.

Nieto might not be one of the biggest names on the Sharks roster, but he’s definitely a useful piece of the puzzle.

“He brings speed,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, per NHL.com. “He’s one of our faster forwards. He’s another guy that gives us a little bit of a different dimension and a little bit of a different element.

“I’ll know more by Monday, but I’d anticipate that he’d be available.”

Nieto practiced with his teammates on Saturday, but he didn’t skate on any of the Sharks’ top four lines. It doesn’t look like DeBoer will make changes from the team that beat St. Louis in Game 6 of the conference final, but a lot can change between now and the start of Game 1.

Nieto has one goal and three points in 11 postseason games in 2016.

Chiasson’s agent expects his client to be moved this summer

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10:  Alex Chiasson #90 of the Ottawa Senators skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Alex Chiasson has been in Ottawa for each of the last two seasons, but he’s fallen way short of expectations.

Chiasson was a key piece of the trade that saw Jason Spezza head to Dallas in 2014. The Sens received two prospects, a draft pick and Chiasson in the deal. During his two years in Ottawa, he’s scored 19 goals and 40 points in 153 games. It simply hasn’t worked out the way either side had hoped.

Now, it sounds like his camp is expecting him to be moved before the start of next season.

“I think that’s a potential scenario, but I don’t know if you ever really know if anything materializes until it happens,” agent Kent Hughes said, per The Hockey News. “But yeah, (a trade) wouldn’t surprise me.”

Chiasson may have struggled in the last two years, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple teams inquire about him. He’s still just 25-years-old, he has size (6’4, 205 pounds), and he’s set to become a restricted free agent on July 1st. Whatever contract he signs will likely be pretty affordable.

“I think at the end of the day, for a lack of a better term, it’s the lack of a successful marriage, I guess,” added Hughes. “You get to a point where you either decide you’re going to say to an organization, ‘move on’ or you’re going to continue to try, but as you continue to do that, your asset continues to diminish in value.”