With Brian Burke opting to bolster the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defense this off-season, many critics have pondered whether the current group of forwards are talented enough to propel the Leafs into the playoffs.
That question depends largely on the Leafs’ young forwards, such as Nikolai Kulemin, Jiri Tlusty, Matt Stajan and Mikhail Grabovski. But amongst those listed, one player in particular will be depended to lead the charge offensively. And that is the ultra-talented but inconsistent Grabovski.
In his first season with the Buds, the enigmatic Grabovski proved he was worthy of a full-time spot, posting an impressive 20 goals and 48 points. While he was scratched mid-season for a few games, it was all a part of the learning curve for the young Belorussian, who gradually improved his game as the season progressed. While his offensive skills were never in question, his work ethic and commitment to the team were. But he rose to the occasion, and proved to be a feisty, passionate and, at times, explosive player.
But the question still lingers if Grabovski has the skill set required to become the team’s future No.1 center. Opinions vary, and it’s perhaps to early to determine, but there’s no reason why we can’t speculate.
Grabovski’s potential resides in his offensive game. His hockey sense, stick handling and speed make him a threat in the oppositions zone. His 48 points as a rookie, albeit at 24 years-old, is impressive, so there’s no telling what he’s capable of in the future. He did show flashes of greatness last season, so if he can add some consistency to his game, there’s no doubt he could cross the 60-point barrier in no time.
Consider this: last season Grabovski averaged 16:13 of ice-time, and managed to be a 50-point player, as a rookie. And it’s not as if he had star linemates either. On the powerplay, he was tied for 2nd in goals with 6, and 4th in points with 15, ranking him ahead of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan, who all averaged more PP TOI.
With Antropov gone, that leaves the No.1 center position vacant. And the most logical candidate for the position is Grabovski. But is he deserving of the position? We shall see, but the last thing the Leafs want is for him to think he is entitled to the position, as that is the attitude Brian Burke is trying to eliminate from the Leafs dressing room. Grabovski is aware of the current situation, but if he begins to loaf due to a lack of competition, there’s no doubt that he’ll be sent back to the press box in a matter of games. Attitude will go a long way in determining his future with the Leafs.
The likely scenario will see Grabovski taking the reigns as the No.1 center, and flourishing under the added ice-time and responsibility. But, like anything Leafs related, it’s no sure bet, so it’s best not get overly excited just yet. And suppose he does hit somewhere between 50-60 points, does that make him a candidate as the team’s long-term No.1 center? Does he have what it takes? We know he’s decent in his own end and has an edge to his game, so what’s lacking?
The ideal No.1 center is capable of posting anywhere from 70-80 points, if you compare to other teams’ centers. Does Grabovski have the skill to post those kind of numbers? Personally, I don’t think so. I think he’ll will find his niche as a player who consistently produces in the 60’s. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, that would cement him as the team’s No.2 center, and personally, I’d be content knowing he’s on our top-six each and every game.
The problem with Grabovski is that he lacks the physical edge to allow him to compete against other teams’ top-pairing defensemen. He’s often knocked off the puck, or brought to the ground by any sort of physical contact. And there lies the problem. If he’s the main cog on offense, the opposition will shut him down with relative ease once they figure out his weaknesses--and lack of size and strength can be a big problem. As a No.2, however, he’d be expected to support the top-line, and he’d play against lesser defensemen, which is the most important thing.
Can he do it? Sure. Is it likely? Not in my opinion.
What do you think? Does Grabovski have the pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence to be the Leafs’ long-term No.1 center?