This past summer, after a disappointing first round Stanley Cup Playoff exit, the New York Rangers and General Manager Jeff Gorton got to work in trying to fix the Blueshirts squad. Among a couple trades, free-agent signings, and so on, one move proved quite worthy, and is proving to be worth every single cent. The Rangers signed free-agent forward Michael Grabner to a two year, $3.2 million contract extension in July. The team needed to find a speedy, skillful, and overall experienced player to fill in the roll of Carl Hagelin, whom the team traded away a season prior. With Grabner, the team got all that and more. Not only can Grabner skate extremely fast and is agile, he can score goals and play sound defensively.
Taking a look at this year, Grabner has scored 19 goals and has added eight assists in 44 games played for the Rangers. He sits in twelfth place in the entire National Hockey League in goals scored. Just over the halfway point of the 2016-17 season and Grabner has his third most all-time points (55 in 2010-11 and 32 in 2011-12). With the pace he is on, and if all goes well and he stays healthy, Grabner is on track for 54 points, just one shy of tying his most all time.
But the reason for Grabner’s success thus far with the Rangers is because he matches the team’s playing style almost perfectly. Grabner is a fast, two-way player, who can help force turnovers in the defensive zone and then convert them into offensive scoring chances. He is great at getting behind the defense and using his quickness to get in on net and force a shot on the goaltender.
There have been multiple times this season that that exact situation has happened and has led to either a Grabner goal or assist. For example, take the Rangers game on January 7 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.Tied 4-4 in the dying seconds of the game, Grabner intercepted a Columbus pass and was shot out of a cannon, racing to the net and then burying the puck for the game winner.
The Rangers have established themselves over the past few seasons as a team that thrives on speed and explosiveness which is what leads them to offensive success. Playing on lines with guys such as Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Kevin Hayes have all lead to many goals this season for the Blueshirts with Grabner being involved. This season, he leads the Rangers team in goals (19), leading the next player, Zuccarello, by one. He is seventh on team in points as well.
The thing that has been most impressive about Grabner this season, aside from his excellent play, is how he is having one of his best seasons in several years. The last time Grabner broke 20 points was in 2013-14, when he was a member of the New York Islanders. After that, he would spend one more season with the Isles, tallying 13 points, then go to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he would score 18.
However, in coming to Manhattan, it seems as if Grabner has found a new offensive spark with the Rangers. In his past three NHL seasons, Grabner has average 0.16 goals per game, whereas this season with NYR, he averages 0.45. That is a huge increase, especially for a player who plays a bottom six role averaging somewhere around 15 minutes or less of ice time a game. His shooting percentage is at a high 21.9 percent and he averages 2.04 goals per 60 minutes of ice time. He also has a hat-trick this season, coming on Oct. 30 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the future, Grabner can become a top point player for the Blueshirts and earn himself back another contract. His current deal expires after the end of the 2017-18 NHL season. It is up to him to earn his spot on the New York Rangers Roster, and as of right now, he is doing a darn good job.
Side note- in his career, the 29-year old, Villach, Austria native has skated in a total of 441 games, scoring 123 goals and adding 77 assists bringing him to an even 200 career points. He was drafted 14th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.