Jeff Gorton surprised Rangers fans by signing Michael Grabner to a two-year, $3.3 million contract on July 1st, 2016. On the first day of free agency the Rangers chose to let Viktor Stalberg walk and replaced his speed and presence in the bottom-six with the Austrian winger.
Grabner had nine goals and nine assists in 80 games with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16. By the end of November 2016 he had 12 goals and four assists in 24 games with the Rangers.
Starts don’t get much hotter than that.
The former Canucks first round pick found himself skating on the Rangers dangerous third line centered by Kevin Hayes with J.T. Miller on his opposite wing. As a trio that line struggled in terms of possession, but they lit the lamp frequently in the first half of the season. Many considered them to be the best third line in hockey in the first half of the season.
The Rangers third line outscored opponents at even strength by a margin of 19 goals to 11 while enjoying a 106.5 PDO. Grabner shooting 21 percent through the first four months of the season had a lot to do with that. He also helped Miller set new career highs in assists and points in a season.
At times Grabner was downright electrifying.
He scored 21 goals in the 48 games he played for the Rangers before the 2017 All-Star break. But Grabner eventually cooled off and his shooting percentage came back down to earth. He had just five goals in his last 27 games of the season. He scored five goals in his nine games in October.
Grabner finished the season with 27 goals and a 16.7 shooting percentage. Grabner’s production helped the Rangers finish with the fourth most potent offense in the league. Only Chris Kreider scored more goals for the Rangers.
But he brought much more to the table than just a red hot scoring touch.
Grabner was invaluable to the Rangers on special teams and he led all New York forwards in shorthanded ice time. His speed made him a constant threat on a Rangers penalty kill that underachieved for a second straight season. But Grabner’s 4-on-5 22.93 CF60 was the highest on the team. And his 4-on-5 CA60 was also fourth-best on the team, behind only Derek Stepan, Brady Skjei and Mats Zuccarello.
The veteran winger finished fifth on the Rangers in takeaways and had more breakaways than this writer cares to look up. He brought speed, tenacity and offensive depth to the Rangers. The 29-year-old winger made the Blueshirts a better team.
Final Grade: A
Even with Grabner cooling off after the All-Star break his season was still exceptional. He scored 20 even strength goals (and six primary assists) despite averaging only 12:19 even strength ice time per game. Grabner exceeded every expectation.
Luck clearly played a part in Grabner’s goal scoring, but you can hardly count that as a strike against him. If the Austrian winger had scored 14 goals his first season in New York would still have been a tremendous success.