By Adam Proteau
If I told you the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best all-around player last season was a five-foot-11, sublimely skilled forward tough (and some might say bull-headed) enough to absorb huge hits from Zdeno Chara and come back the same night to score the game-winner, you’d be forgiven for fantasizing that former captain Doug Gilmour had come back for one more kick at the NHL can.
However, the aforementioned player isn’t the man once hailed as ‘Killer.’ Rather, it’s centre Mikhail Grabovski — a Belarusian born in Germany and apparently raised by a pack of very fast skaters — who has shown himself to be deadly on the ice.
And for the Leafs to make the playoffs, they’ll need the 27-year-old to at least replicate the 29-goal, 58-point totals he posted last season.
But it would be nice to see Torontonians embrace Grabovski’s talent and spirit a little more than they do at present.
Hockey fans in this city usually direct their affection to the blue-collar, hard-working type personified by Tie Domi. I get that, but when you look at what Grabovski has done, you see he’s been just as determined to carve out a place for himself as a contributor of note — and not just on offense; he’s also become one of the team’s go-to forwards in defensive situations.And think of what Grabovski has overcome. He’s not physically imposing; he believed in himself when the Montreal Canadiens (who drafted him 150th overall in 2004) no longer wanted to; and he didn’t give in when he broke his wrist in the 2009-10 campaign.
Most importantly, Grabovski is showing he can survive in the pressure-cooker that is Toronto. As we saw last Saturday in Montreal (where Grabovski assisted on the game-tying goal before scoring the overtime winner), he can play big on a big stage.
And as long-suffering Leafs fans are well and painfully aware, that’s not a quality that exists in every player who’s donned the Blue and White.
Those character traits are going to secure Grabovski a sizeable increase on the $2.9 million he’s earning this season. If you don’t believe he’s worth it, watch as teams line up to pay him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
If you saw him in the street, you’d ask yourself, “Have I locked up my surfboard?,” but appearances are deceiving. Grabovski is a keeper and one of coach Ron Wilson’s best soldiers.
He’s due for a raise not only in salary, but in appreciation.