Where Will Grabner Fit With The Isles?

Michael Grabner has been activated off the injured reserve and is close to making his debut in the Islanders line-up this season. He was seen this morning practicing with Frans Nielsen and Mikhail Grabovski, although it has yet to be confirmed if this is the line he will be playing with tomorrow night when they visit the Ottawa Senators for the second half of a home-and-home match-up.

Where Grabner would fit has come into question, given that the current line-up has done very well this season (18-7-0).

A case could be made that someone from the fourth line could sit, or that Anders Lee would be sent back to the minors. But Lee has made a strong case for staying put on the “kid line” with Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, and scratching Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck or Casey Cizikas would mean someone from the top three lines would have to be demoted.

Josh Bailey has been suggested as the easy target as well, but he hasn’t exactly been terrible this season. In 17 games played, Bailey has three goals and four assists for seven points. Albeit these are not extravagant numbers, he hasn’t played poorly enough to necessarily warrant being sat.

Head Coach Jack Capuano doesn’t have to make the decision right away, as it has temporarily been made for him. Clutterbuck left last night’s game with an injury, came back, and then returned to the locker room unable to finish the game.

Additionally, the Islanders have placed Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky on the IR, and it is unknown yet whether or not Travis Hamonic will be playing tomorrow night. Hamonic left last night’s game after a huge hit from Chris Neil.

Like Clutterbuck, Hamonic did return but did not seem like himself and was unable to finish the game after the second go around.

With Clutterbuck out of the line-up, Grabner can easily dress somewhere on the top three lines.

He may indeed be a nice fit with Nielsen and Grabovski. Grabner’s speed may open up some offense for the other two skaters, who have struggled to score consistently this season.

However, eventually trying Grabner on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo might be worth a shot. Although Tavares still leads the team in points, he has not exactly been the dominant force that he can be. Okposo, who continues to rack up assists, hasn’t scored a goal in 13 games.

Nikolay Kulemin has been a solid winger on the top unit due to his size and defensive prowess, but he is not as physical as Okposo, nor as offensively gifted.

Placing Grabner’s speed on the top unit may create more opportunities for Okposo and Tavares to start scoring more goals. Keep in mind that Grabner has shown great chemistry with Okposo in the past, and he is one of the Isles’ best defensive forwards as well. Therefore, Kulemin’s defensive game will be replaced with someone equally as capable, but with (hopefully) a little more offense.

It’s important to remember that Grabner’s offensive production has been on the decline over the last few seasons. But what’s to say a fresh start on the top line of one of the best teams in the NHL won’t rejuvenate his game?

In other news, defenseman Griffin Reinhart has been recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers due to Boychuk and Visnovsky going to the IR. He may dress for his fourth NHL game tomorrow night in Ottawa.

Reinhart has scored two goals and six assists for eight points in 15 games played with Bridgeport.

-Rob McGowan

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