The New York Rangers signed Michael Grabner via Free Agency as a penalty killer. At this point of this season, he has proven to be much more.
There seems to be no better time than right now to acknowledge how smart the New York Rangers were last off-season with one player in particular:
This Ranger is no one other than fan favorite, Michael Grabner.
When Blueshirts GM Jeff Gorton signed the 29-year-old free agent on July 1st 2016, the expectation was that Grabner would add some offensive punch to the Rangers bottom six while improving team penalty killing.
Grabner agreed to a two-year deal at a cap hit of $1.65MM per season. That cost is a little over half of what his last contract paid him annually and only about a third of the guy many people thought he was acquired to replace: Carl Hagelin.
Now, 53 games games into the Rangers’ season, it has become clear that No. 40 is much more than simply a penalty killer.
Sitting at the top of the list as the Rangers’ leader in goals (25), and currently the NHL’s 5th best goal scorer, Grabner has exceeded the expectations of the front office and, perhaps more importantly those of the fans.
Players understand how important fans are to the game. In New York, maybe more than anywhere else, fans want to see a win every night. At times, they basically expect it.
While that is an impossible feat to accomplish, there are certain things that can be done to give fans something to cheer about. This is what Grabner does to the best of his ability.
It is so great to see a player like Grabner compete the way he does. With every single shift, you notice him on the ice making a difference.
And how can you not notice? With his speed, he can easily have two or three breakaways a game.
Take a look at how Grabner slips through the cracks during Tuesday night’s game against the Ducks:
He did not score on the play, due to a fantastic save by John Gibson with his glove, but that shot gets past a lot of goalies, a lot of the time.
You can see him from the blue line looking for the extra step, and once J.T. Miller sees he has it, the pass is made and Grabner is off to the races.
Keeping his scoring in mind, let’s not forget that No. 40 is doing a great job on the penalty kill as well. Last season, the Rangers’ PK ranked in the bottom five in the league. As of today, it is teetering on being in the top third again (where it was earlier in the season). That improvement is in part owing to the presence of Grabner.
Since his arrival in New York, it has been clear that he knows what he has to do to win, and isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas of the ice to do it.
Grabner is one of those players that any team would love to have, yet absolutely hates playing against. The Rangers are very happy to have him – especially at a fraction of the cost of what he replaced.
With the way that he has been playing, he should easily crack 30 goals this season. He’s done it once before in his NHL career. He scored 52 points (34 goals/18 assists) for the Islanders in his first full NHL season. (Grabner’s NHL debut featured 11 points (5G/6A) in 20 games – interestingly enough – as a member of Alain Vigneault’s 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks).
When you really think about the whole deal, the Rangers were victorious. That Grabner was picked up to help the penalty kill and maybe crack 15 goals on the year would have been a successful enough outcome. This seems unreal.
This is what it needs to be, though. The Rangers would like to win more games and can do so with Grabner playing the way he has been. Fans want to see victories and goals. Could this be the best of both worlds?
What would be the real kicker is if he could keep this up in the playoffs, where the Blueshirts could really use scoring help. There is still time left on the season, but it’s ticking fast.