When Mikhail Grabovski broke his wrist on Jan. 2, the Maple Leafs were a fairly veteran team with designs on a playoff spot and the forward positioned as a middle-of-the-pack scorer.
He’s set to return Tuesday against the Boston Bruins with the Leafs reduced by trades to the youngest club in the NHL, stuck in 29th place and him their third-highest scorer by default. So count the 26-year-old among those in dire need of a strong finish in the remaining 17 games.
Grabovski also is trying to get back in general manager Brian Burke’s good books after a scrape with the law in Vancouver during the Olympics, an alleged role in a street brawl. Burke did not mince words at the time about Grabovski needing to smarten up if he wanted a future with the Leafs.
“I’m excited, my wrist is OK and I’m ready to play,” Grabovski said Monday. “There was a lot of contact today (two assistant coaches spent half an hour working him in one-on-one battles along the boards). My wrist is sore, but it’s normal.
“The last 17 games, I want to play hard, like usual. It doesn’t matter which line I’m on.”
Grabovski had 25 points in 42 games before the injury, which wrecked his chances of playing for Belarus at the Olympics.
But Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel are the only Leafs with more points than him now, with the club averaging barely a goal a game since the break.
Tuesday also will be Luca Caputi’s first home game as a Leaf, the young winger trying to deal with a glut of ticket requests from friends and family in the Toronto area.
But he doesn’t view it as a potential distraction against the Bruins or in any future games at the Air Canada Centre.
“A lot more people are around you that you know and you’re around your family, but I look upon it as an advantage,” Caputi said.
“So many people want to see you do well, that it can be one of your strengths. There is going to be pressure anywhere you play.”
If coach Ron Wilson sticks to the plan of alternating goaltenders, then Jonas Gustvasson will get the call against the Bruins. His last start was a tense 2-1 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.