After a strong nine game performance in November before injuring his ankle in a pre-game soccer warm up, there were high hopes that Michael Grabner would come back better than ever in his second call up and earn a full-time NHL roster spot.
The hope was that Grabner could form a formidable second line with fellow speedsters Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler which would forcibly free up Mikael Samuelsson and Pavol Demitra to form a third scoring line with Kyle Wellwood in the middle.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct1409_grabner_rr.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">In seven games, Grabner has picked up only three assists and that is simply not good enough for a top-six forward on a Canucks team that is full of depth when healthy. Demitra was rushed back into the lineup Thursday night following an injury to Daniel Sedin and had two assists in 15:28 of ice time. Mikael Samuelsson, recovering from a shoulder injury, and Steve Bernier, recovering from sports hernia surgery, were both on the California road trip practicing with the team. According to Sportsnet's Dan Murphy, both Samuelsson and Bernier are expected to be back Tuesday or Thursday next week.
With Grabner underperforming, Samuelsson is the team's leading goal scorer, so you figure he will be in the team's top-six and Pavol Demitra with his personal issues finally resolved, you figure he will be in the top-six as well after leading the Olympic tournament in scoring. Then the Mason Raymond, Kyle Wellwood, and Steve Bernier line was dominant last season and in the playoffs, so they could be reunited as the third line.
You could insert him onto the third line over Canuck land's favourite whipping boy Steve Bernier, but his ice time will be reduced even more as he has averaged only about 11 minutes playing on the second line. Grabner is a one-dimensional offensive player that cannot contribute defensively or play on the penalty kill, so what he gets five on five is what he will get all night; Grabner will not be getting power play time. Even with Demitra, Samuelsson, and Bernier out, it took injuries to Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows before he even got a sniff on the power play. You have to ask yourself, why even bother putting like him on the third line with that kind of ice time, when you can have a more complete player there and Grabner can have all the ice time he wants in the minors?
Grabner has a tremendous skill set, but he has not put up the points expected for a player of his calibre and he is too much of a wildcard to keep on the team. You know Steve Bernier will consistently go to the net, bring a net and physical presence. You know that Mikael Samuelsson will always shoot the puck and is a versatile player. You know Pavol Demitra will bring veteran savvy and versatility.
Come playoff time, you need every player to be at the top of the game and playing a specific role to perfection, it is no place or time for hiccups. That being said, we cannot afford Grabner to go into one of his often overlooked scoring slumps in Canuck land.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/images/upload/2008/04/Michael_Grabner_350x250.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">According to Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press, when re-assigned to the Moose on December 19, Grabner had three goals in four games, followed by no goals in fourteen games, then seven goals in seven games, no goals in seven, and finally one goal game before being called up.
"I don't think he was playing his best hockey for us but it's an opportunity for him to go up and gain some confidence," Moose coach Scott Arniel said at the time. "It's an opportunity for him to go back up and play like he did when he was there the first time. He did lots of good things when he was there."
Simply put, Grabner was not a player deserving of a call-up, he only got the call because of what he did in November. He has not looked like a confident player nor has looked like the Grabner of November.
Grabner can do great things, but this is a performance driven business and he has not performed statistically like a top-six forward or has he had a great game by any stretch of the imagination to warrant a spot on this team. Potential does not win playoff series.
I am afraid that unless Grabner scores hat tricks in the next two games, his time in Vancouver this year is done unless more injuries arise.