Tag: Nikolai Kulemin

New York Islanders v Phoenix Coyotes

Grabovski auditioning for LW spot on Tavares-Okposo line


Playing on John Tavares’ wing can be a boon for one’s career (just ask Matt Moulson), so it’s not surprising that one of the Islanders’ big offseason acquisitions, Mikhail Grabovski, is welcoming the opportunity — even if it means moving from his natural center position.

“It’s always good to play with good players,” Grabovski said, per Newsday. “It’s whatever the coaches think. I’m happy wherever they put me.”

Grabovski will man the left wing tonight on the Tavares-Kyle Okposo line when the Isles take on the ‘Canes at Nassau. It’s a significant role change for the 30-year-old; when he and another ex-Leaf, winger Nikolai Kulemin, inked with New York this summer, many assumed they’d be paired together on the club’s second line with Grabovski manning the middle.

That said, it’s not like Grabbo is completely inexperienced playing left wing — he skated there in Washington last year, on a makeshift line with Alex Ovechkin on the right and Jay Beagle at center. Grabovski, a three-time 20-goal scorer, said he enjoyed the experience.

“I play before long time ago on the wing, just simple play,” he explained, per the Washington Post. “It’s good for me to find my game play wing right now, just feel more comfortable, have a puck and go.”

It’ll be interesting to see who fills out the Isles’ top line this season. Moulson was the guy for years until he was traded to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek, who was instantly plugged in Moulson’s spot and performed well. During one stretch last season, the Vanek-Tavares-Okoposo line combined for 72 points in 22 games.

Grabovski isn’t the only Isles forward auditioning for the gig, however. Josh Bailey got his shot in the club’s first preseason game and it’s possible another center — Brock Nelson — will get a look as well.

Under Pressure: Garth Snow

Garth Snow

Nearly 12 months ago we here at ProHockeyTalk asked, What’s Garth Snow thinking?

Almost a calendar year later, the same question can be asked.

With new ownership in the process of taking over and the Islanders set to move into a new home for 2015-16, one has to wonder what Mr. Snow is thinking.

The man, who appointed Snow general manager eight years ago, Charles Wang, is on his way out and the team has qualified for the playoffs just once in the past seven years.

With big changes at the top ahead, Snow is under pressure to turn his team into a playoff contender sooner rather than later.

New York finished the 2013-14 season 14 points back of eighth place Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Islanders were last in the Metropolitan Division with a 34-37-11 record.

The Red Wings finished with 93 points to clinch that final playoff spot last season, the only time the Islanders have finished with more than 80 points in an 82-game season was Snow’s first year at the helm in 2006-07 where the Islanders lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Buffalo Sabres in five games.

Under Snow’s watch, the Islanders have had three coaches and one can argue, given Snow’s pressure to win now, Jack Capuano could also be written about in this space.

The good news for Snow is he’ll have his captain, and top center, John Tavares back and healthy after suffering a knee injury at the 2014 Olympics limited him to just 59 games in 2013-14.

Snow went out and got Tavares some help adding depth to the forward group by signing Mikhail Grabovski to a four-year $20 million deal and Nikolai Kulemin to a four-year $16.8 million deal. The hope is Grabovski and Kulemin can rekindle their chemistry formed while playing together for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In goal, Snow went out and picked up the rights to Jaroslav Halak from Washington and inked him to a new four-year $18 million deal. Halak, who has a career 144-85-29 record with a .918 save percentage, should slot in nicely for the departed Evgeni Nabakov.

Halak should slot in nicely that is if he gets help from his defense.

The Islanders were 28th last season in goals-against ahead of only Florida and Edmonton. Snow didn’t do much to help his goaltender. He did go out and acquire the rights to Dan Boyle from San Jose, but was unable to come to terms with the pending unrestricted free agent, who signed with the New York Rangers.

The Islanders are also without Andrew MacDonald, who Snow sent to Philadelphia in March for minor leaguer Matt Mangene and a pair of draft picks.

Left are Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic, Matt Carkner, Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait in addition to Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan.

The Islanders did add a former Maple Leafs property on the back end as well in T.J. Brennan, the reigning AHL defenseman of the year. But given that Brennan was a minus-10 while scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with the Toronto Marlies last season, I’m not sure how much help Brennan can be.

Then there’s budding prospect Griffin Reinhart, who at 20-years-old, could crack the Islanders opening day lineup. But to rest your defensive hopes on a rookie is recipe for disaster.

Snow’s inability to shore up defensive concerns could be what sinks him in New York’s final season on Long Island.

Related: In praise of John Tavares

It’s New York Islanders Day at PHT

Travis Hamonic, Kyle Okposo, John Tavares

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The New York Islanders.

Last season was a disappointment for a lot of reasons for the Islanders.

After making the playoffs in 2013, they plummeted to last place in the Metropolitan Division. While the offense was all right, the Isles problems centered around their defense and goaltending as they finished 28th out of 30 in the league in goals allowed per-game giving up 3.18 per. Only the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers were worse.

Even the brightest spot on offense, John Tavares, suffered his own pitfalls. He suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Olympics in Sochi, something that didn’t sit well with GM Garth Snow. As for how he played when healthy, he had 66 points (24 goals) in 59 games and still nearly finished the season as the team leader in points.

Instead, Kyle Okposo picked up the slack in Tavares’ absence and ended the season leading the team in goals (27) and points (69) – both career highs. Just think of what he would’ve done if Tavares could’ve finished the season with him and Thomas Vanek (44 points in 47 games).

Frans Nielsen provided another bright spot up with career-highs in both goals (25) and points (58) as well. With Nielsen and Okposo providing highs, seeing Michael Grabner regress to 12 goals in 64 games was disappointing. The Isles did get a glimpse of the future as both Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome showed signs they’ll be key contributors soon.

Where the Isles had their biggest problems were on the back end. Injuries kept Lubomir Visnovsky off the ice for most of the season and they dealt Andrew MacDonald to the Flyers at the trade deadline. Travis Hamonic came back to the pack a bit after strong play two seasons ago, but guys like Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan had a chance to show what they had and should get a shot to own a spot in the top six next season.

After seeing Evgeni Nabokov come up small against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, he showed basically what he is putting up a .905 save percentage while dealing with a handful of injury issues. Both Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson showed how young they were by not being able to keep up with NHL-level players when Nabokov was out. Things in goal will be decidedly different next season or else coach Jack Capuano might be in real trouble.

Offseason recap

It was an adventurous offseason on Long Island for both GM Garth Snow and owner Charles Wang.

The Islanders fixed their biggest problem, goaltending, right away by trading for Jaroslav Halak and then signing him to a new deal. Adding Chad Johnson as his backup after a successful season in Boston means, suddenly, stopping pucks shouldn’t be their biggest concern.

Adding Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to their crew of forwards should bring a marked improvement in depth. With Tavares, Grabovski, Nielsen, and Casey Cizikas they’re looking strong up the middle. They didn’t exactly address their needs on the blue line, but may have gotten a bit of a steal signing the AHL’s top defenseman T.J. Brennan.

The biggest change, however, came recently that Wang is selling the team to former Washington Capitals owner Jon Ledecky. With next season being the last one on Long Island, they’re trying to go out with a bang.