Grabner a perfect fit for Islanders

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:21 PM ET

TORONTO - UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Michael Grabner has seen a lot of the North American hockey world for an Austrian-born NHL rookie.

All he needs is a trade to a California team and he will have played in all four corners of the continent. But he wants to stay right here with the rebuilding Islanders, thank you very much.

“I certainly don’t feel like a rookie,” Grabner said. “It has been a roller-coaster ride, but things are settling down.”

If you want to keep track of the young right winger, who ranked fourth in freshman goals with 16 before Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs, the story starts in Villach, Austria, a slapshot from the Italian border.

Grabner excelled for him hometown junior team and came to the attention of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, who lured him all the way to Washington state with the carrot of a fast way to the NHL. Despite breaking his collarbone in his first exhibition game, Grabner had a combined 50 goals his first two WHL years, under the watchful eyes of the neighbouring Vancouver Canucks.

They chose him 14th overall in 2006, right after Toronto GM John Ferguson gambled on Czech forward Jiri Tlusty. Three years of seasoning in the AHL with Manitoba resulted in 20 games of callup duty by the Canucks last season, He had 11 points and a playoff goal in the conference final against Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks. But that good performance also put him in play as part of the Keith Ballard trade with Florida. He was close to making the team in pre-season games, but just when it seemed the sun and sand would be his new home, the Panthers tried to expand their roster options by slipping him through on waivers, only to be trumped by the Isles.

With their “anything goes” policy, Grabner had lots of ice time and as of Tuesday was fifth in team points. Not yet 24, he qualified for the young stars skills competion at the recent all-star game, where he won the fastest skater competition with a lap of the rink in 14.06 seconds.

“The big thing is that I’m chipping in goals,” Grabner said. “We’re a team that can grow together, a team whose ages are in close range and we do a lot of the same things away from the ice.

“We haven’t done so well this season, but you can see improvement. We’ve lost a lot of games by one goal or late in the third period.”


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