The New York Rangers came out of last season with a few glaring weaknesses that needed to be addressed. While the jury is still out on whether or not their tenuous collection of blueliners will hold up over the long haul, it is readily apparent that their additions of speedy depth forwards are paying major dividends.
One of the most effective of those acquisitions has been 29-year-old speedster Michael Grabner. He was brought in to help improve the team’s penalty kill, but has also added some nice offensive punch to New York’s bottom six.
A Threat on the Penalty Kill
Grabner has been a disruptive force in shorthanded situations for the Rangers, using his speed and smarts to pressure the opposition into making quick plays with the puck. Oftentimes, this leads to turnovers, which then lead either to zone clears or rush chances the other way.
Known as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Grabner has routinely used that asset to create chances shorthanded so far this season. Last season, without Grabner, the Rangers not only had a very bad penalty killing percentage of 78.2% (26th in the league), but they rarely generated many shorthanded scoring opportunities. They scored only three shorthanded goals all of last season, which was tied for the second-fewest in the league.
While the Blueshirts do not yet have a shorthanded tally in nine games this season, they have had a number of close calls, many of which have seen Grabner in the thick of the action, such as his breakaway chance against Detroit on Oct. 19, shown in the video below. It is only a matter of time before Grabner and the Rangers start converting on these shorthanded opportunities. The fact that they are creating so many is a marked difference from last season.
Additional Scoring Depth
While Grabner is still knocking on the door of picking up a shorthanded goal, he has lit the lamp five times at even strength, which leads the team. He scored the Rangers’ first goal of the season in the opener against one of his former clubs, the rival New York Islanders.
Most recently though, Grabner put his explosiveness on full display, recording a hat trick against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Moved up to the third line with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller, Grabner grabbed hold of his opportunity with an offensive outburst. He again created his opportunities by using his speed and strong ability to read plays (some nice passing by his teammates didn’t hurt either).
The Rangers knew Grabner’s scoring ability was there, as he scored 34 goals for the Islanders in 2010-11 and then added 20 goals for them the following year. Last season, however, he scored just nine goals in 80 games for an anemic Toronto Maple Leafs club. That disappointment helped allow the Rangers to sign him somewhat under the radar to a two-year deal at a salary cap-friendly AAV of $1.65 million.
With five goals in nine games so far this season, Grabner is rewarding the Rangers for their faith in him. All three of his goals on Saturday were highlight-reel worthy, showing that he has some pretty good skill to go along with all of his speed.
Grabner has proven to be a versatile player that provides head coach Alain Vigneault with multiple options. He excels as a penalty killer and defensive specialist, but so far has shown signs of the 30-goal scorer he once was. If he can continue to contribute offensively while also solidifying the Rangers’ penalty kill, he will likely go down as one of the best free agent signings of the 2016 offseason.