When the Arizona Coyotes signed Michael Grabner as a free agent in July of 2018, he was added to provide some offensive and special teams production. Over the past two seasons, he has only been able to produce 17 goals and 10 assists for 27 points in 87 games. The reason he has only appeared in 87 games was due to a gruesome eye injury he sustained in a game against the St. Louis Blues on December 1, 2018. Blues forward Sammy Blais accidentally hit Grabner in the face on a follow through with his stick.
Michael Grabner’s role in Play-in Series
It must be noted that of the 17 goals Grabner collected seven have been shorthanded. His role on the penalty kill can be wisely used in the play-in series against the Nashville Predators. He and Brad Richardson are an excellent duo on the special teams unit and team up for quite a few shorthanded goals.
After missing three months due to the severe eye injury, Grabner returned on March 7, 2019. His second game back he scored two goals against the Los Angeles Kings with one being his specialty, a shorty.
He finished the season but then the next season his production decreased to just eight goals and three assists. Perhaps it was his recovery and adjustment to the injury but he was a healthy scratch for 17 games. He did play 11:44 minutes in the Coyotes last game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 9, 2020. Whether head coach Rick Tocchet lost confidence in Grabner’s ability, or it was merely a matter of lineup decisions, Grabner sat.
Michael Grabner Will be an Extra vs Nashville
The former Coyotes beat writer, Craig Morgan has Grabner listed as an extra in the play-in series. If he’s in the lineup, he and Richardson may work some more shorthanded magic together. Right now, it appears that Lawson Crouse will be on the first penalty-killing unit. That could change as training camp starts on July 13th and Grabner may show his worth to be back playing more minutes again. It’s still unclear as to whether he has adjusted to the scars of the eye injury. After an unfortunate injury, some players may get tentative and not play at full speed.
It’s certain that the team can use Grabner’s speed. If Barrett Hayton doesn’t pan out on the fourth line, he could see some action. Right now, he will compete for the fourth line role with Christian Fischer who also saw many minutes in the press box as a healthy scratch. More competition for ice time could also come from the team’s Black Aces. Young forwards like Brayden Burke, Hudson Fasching, and Michael Chaput could see some action. Yet, as a veteran of 11 years in the NHL one would assume if an injury occurs or a starter is not performing, Grabner would get the call.
Michael Grabner has Something to Prove
As is with any NHL player returning from a major injury can be tough. When the injury involves a player’s eye, it’s especially difficult. If Grabner’s vision is not what it needs to be to continue playing, he certainly will know that and do something about it.
Grabner is signed through the 2020-21 season at an AAV of $3.35 million. In order to make some salary cap room since the cap did not increase, the team may consider trading Grabner. He will be 33-years-old in early October and his trade value may be less than attractive.
Grabner certainly wants to prove he can still compete in the NHL. The one question will be whether the injury has deflated his game and how he handles it. Hockey players are a special breed and have been known to come back from critical injuries. In Grabner’s case, this will be especially paramount as he attempts to prove his worth.
Every Coyotes’ hockey fan can still recall how when Grabner puts it into afterburner he is most difficult to stop. He does have a knack of being open and streaking towards the opposing net, he just needs to work on finishing off the play and turning on the red light. Adding him to the penalty kill against Nashville may be a weapon that Tocchet needs to consider.
One thing is obvious. Grabner can help this team, but will he get the chance to prove it?