Michael Grabner

Matt Moulson is pretty high on Michael Grabner


Tonight, New York Islanders RW Michael Grabner will return to Vancouver for the first time since being part of last June’s Keith Ballard deal.

(NB: With Grabner in New York and Steve Bernier and Victor Oreskovich in the AHL, only one player from that deal — Ballard — remains with his acquiring team, making it of one of the rare “nobody won” trades in NHL history.)

For the Canucks, Grabner is often viewed as the one that got away. Drafted 14th overall in 2006, the speedy Austrian showed flashes of talent in Vancouver but never the consistency to stick in the bigs. When he was shipped off to and then released by Florida, many figured that was the last they’d hear of Grabner — until he caught on with the Islanders and caught fire. He found his groove, got nominated for the Calder and has scored 34 goals in his last 71 games, prompting teammate Matt Moulson to talk him up to the Vancouver media.

I mean really talk him up. From the Vancouver Province:

“Everyone gives him knocks on his breakaways [Grabner missed two last game vs. Colorado] but I don’t think people understand how fast he’s going,” Moulson said. “That’s half the battle. He’s flying in there every time and in a flash he’s right on top of the goalie. I think that makes it really tough on him.

“But once he starts potting those, he could probably start getting 70 goal seasons.”

Uhhh…70 goals?

“He basically scored all his goals last year in three-quarters of the year. There’s a lot more goals in him,” Moulson said.

Grabner’s on pace for 32 this year (and a whopping six assists, making him a strong Cy Young candidate), so perhaps Moulson was just getting a little ahead of himself with that proclamation. But when given a chance to tone it down, Moulson cranked the hyperbole amp to 11:

“He’s not like other players, and I think you have to understand that if you’re managing him,” Moulson said. “He’s different. He has this rare explosive speed and he has these underrated playmaking skills.

“When I think of someone to compare him with, the only player I can think of is also a Vancouver guy – Pavel Bure.”

I’m not sure if Moulson is serious, or playing this up because of Grabner’s return to Vancouver. Grabner’s a good player and all, but the Russian Rocket comparisons are a tad premature (and I’m not sure they’ll ever mature).

Whatever the case, it’s pretty funny to hear Moulson discuss his teammate the way the Internet discusses Chuck Norris.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.