Michael Grabner realizes he is closer than he has ever been to graduating to the next level.
The speedy Austrian forward made great strides over the course of the American Hockey League season, producing 30 goals and 48 points in 66 games during the regular season before adding 10 goals and 17 points in 20 Calder Cup playoff games.
Aside from a recall earlier this season that lasted fewer than 24 hours and didn't result in any games, the first round choice (14th overall in 2006) of the Vancouver Canucks hasn't had a taste of the NHL.
That figures to change next season as Grabner is one of the prospects who may have an opportunity to make the Canucks out of training camp in the fall.
"Right now, I'm just trying to take it easy and give the body some rest. It was a long season," said Grabner. "I'll get back in shape, get ready for training camp and see what happens there. I'll try to get a job there and if not, I'll come back and keep working hard here. It's a great organization and I love playing here too."
Grabner's breathtaking speed has been evident since joining the Moose in the fall of 2007, but his overall game is improving.
"I had a lot of fun playing hockey this year, with a lot of great guys," said Grabner. "Obviously, we didn't make it all the way but it was a great experience going as far as we did. The hockey was different in the later rounds. It was more intense and the mental side of the game comes into play.
"The goals I set for myself, I did pretty good with them. I could have scored more goals. I had a lot of chances during the year and in the playoffs, but I improved my numbers from last year and I have to improve next year again."
Grabner has also spent time working on things away from the puck and credits Moose head coach Scott Arniel with helping him get better.
"I felt pretty good all year and I've improved my game too," said Grabner. "Coach has helped me a lot. He's the best coach I've had."
Canucks assistant general manager Lorne Henning has witnessed the growth over the course of the season and is expecting big things from Grabner this fall.
"He's always had the speed, but he's starting to do the little things now," said Henning. "It's been a process, like it is for everybody, but he's opened up a lot of eyes. Guys are anxious to see how he develops in camp. He's put himself in a good position and he's gotten better every year."
NO DUCKS HERE?: With the success of the secondary affiliation with the Dallas Stars this season, Heisinger was asked if there was any chance the Anaheim Ducks might set up a similar arrangement with the Canucks next season.
The Ducks are currently without an AHL affiliate after severing ties with the Iowa Chops.
"I think Anaheim, at the end of the day, is going to have their own team," said Heisinger. "The Dallas thing worked for different reasons and as much as think it would be a benefit to add some top prospects, I just don't think the Anaheim situation would be a very good fit."