After scoring five goals in three games — two of the game-winning variety — speedy Rangers forward Michael Grabner was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday.
But his impressive effort goes well beyond the last seven days.
One of the best signings of last summer — inked on the opening day of free agency to a two-year, $3.8 million deal — Grabner has provided immense value for a Rangers team that didn’t have a ton of cap flexibility. His 19 goals on the year have him tied for sixth in the league and he’s on pace for 36, which would break his previous career high.
It’s a neat development, to say the least. Sure, Grabner has a history of sniping — he scored 34 for the Isles back in ’10-11 — but, recently, he was known for his inability to find the back of the net more than anything else.
(To wit: Grabner has his 18 goals through 41 games this year. Over the last two years, he played 114… and scored 17.)
This year, the 29-year-old is playing with a boatload of confidence. And it shows.
“I think the last couple of years, even a few weeks ago when I was missing some chances, it gets into your head a bit,” Grabner said following Saturday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Blue Jackets, per the Daily News. “Last two games I’ve just been a little freer in my head and not thinking too much about it out there.”
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton deserves credit for taking a calculated gamble. There were reasons to think New York would be a good fit — the club needed more speed, which Grabner has in droves, and there was some history with bench boss Alain Vigneault, who coached the Austrian in Vancouver a few years back.
But nobody predicted the Blueshirts would get this kind of production.
It’s a big reason why New York’s heading into its “bye week” in such a favorable position. The Rangers are right near the top of the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division, just three points back of first-place Columbus, and are on pace for an 111-point campaign. That would be a 10-point improvement on last season, no small feat for a club many felt was trending in the wrong direction at the end of last year.