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.

Goalie nods: Prized Jets prospect Hellebuyck makes NHL debut

Joshua Morrissey, Jason Pominville, Connor Hellebuyck
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The future of Winnipeg’s goaltending will be on display tonight in Minnesota.

Connor Hellebuyck, the highly-touted prospect that starred for Team USA at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, will make his NHL debut today when the Jets take on the Wild at Xcel.

Hellebuyck is up with the Jets following an injury to No. 1 (or, “No. 1”) netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who’s out until January with a lower-body injury. An AHL All-Star a year ago, Hellebuyck arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the hype and pressure that come along with his first-ever big league start.

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.


Corey Crawford goes for Chicago in Anaheim. No word yet on who the Ducks will have in goal.

Braden Holtby starts again for Washington, as the Caps host the Bolts. Tampa Bay has yet to name a starter, much like the Ducks.

Marc-Andre Fleury takes on Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus tonight, as the Blue Jackets host the Penguins.

Mike Condon is back in the starter’s role for Montreal with Carey Price sidelined, and his first order of business is a road date against Cory Schneider and the Devils in New Jersey.

Cam Ward faces Chad Johnson as Buffalo welcomes the ‘Canes.

— The Isles will start Jaroslav Halak in Florida. The Panthers will counter with Roberto Luongo.

Cam Talbot finally gets back into the starter’s role tonight in Detroit. Jimmy Howard will go for the Wings.

— It’s Ryan Miller versus Antti Niemi as the Canucks take on the Stars in Dallas.

— Even though Jonas Hiller is healthy and Joni Ortio‘s in the minors, Calgary will stick with Karri Ramo in Arizona. The Coyotes are going with their No. 1, Mike Smith.

‘We’re still right in the hunt for everything’ — Parise will play tonight versus Jets

Zach Parise
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For the first time since Nov. 5, Zach Parise will suit up for the Minnesota Wild.

The team confirmed today that Parise will be in the lineup tonight at home versus Winnipeg. The 31-year-old forward has missed the last eight contests with a sprained MCL.

The Wild were 7-2-2 before Parise got hurt. They lost the game against Nashville in which he suffered the injury, then went 4-3-1 without him.

“I’m just hoping to get back to form as quick as possible and go from there,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “I’m not thinking I need to score right out of the gate, I just want to play. … We’re still right in the hunt for everything. We’ll be fine.”

After ’embarrassing’ loss to Sens, Stars motivated for Canucks

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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The Vancouver Canucks will face a pretty motivated Dallas Stars team tonight at American Airlines Center.

Blame the Ottawa Senators. They were the ones who smoked the Stars, 7-4, on Tuesday.

“It brings you back down to earth,” captain Jamie Benn told the Stars’ website. “You learn that any team can come in here and whip your butt. It was embarrassing for us, especially in our home rink and in front of our home fans. We don’t want that to happen again.”

The Stars have had their way with the Canucks in recent years. The last time Vancouver won in Dallas was Feb. 21, 2013. Since then, victories have included scorelines like 5-1, 4-1, 6-1, and 6-3.

The Stars have already hosted the Canucks once in Dallas this season. On Oct. 29, they fought back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to win, 4-3, in overtime.

Dallas (17-5-0) has yet to lose consecutive games this season.

Video: Beleskey rocks Stepan, fights McIlrath (Update: Stepan won’t return)


Well, Matt Beleskey sure made his presence felt in the Thanksgiving Showdown.

With the Rangers leading the Bruins 2-1 midway through the second period, Beleskey delivered a huge hit on Rangers forward Derek Stepan, then had to answer the bell as he was immediately confronted by towering Blueshirts d-man Dylan McIlrath.

Needless to say, it had a pretty profound effect on the game.

McIlrath got the instigator penalty for the fight, which sent the B’s to the power play. Not long after, Brett Connolly scored his fifth of the year to even the score at 2-2.

Then, later in the period, Stepan was spotted going down the Rangers’ tunnel.

We’ll keep tabs on Stepan’s condition moving forward, and if the comes out for the third period.

There’s a pretty good chance New York bench boss Alain Vigneault will be asked for his thoughts on the hit, too, so stay tuned.

Update: The Rangers have ruled out Stepan for the remainder of the contest.