The inevitable question following a shocking, breakthrough season is always the same: can the player repeat his success?  That’s the question that New York Islanders’ sophomore Michael Grabner has to answer this season.

Grabner had a shocking, breakthrough season in 2010-11.  There had been certain indicators that he might be a player in the past, of course.  His draft pedigree was excellent; he went 14th overall to the Canucks in 2006.  He’d been a 30-goal scorer in both the WHL and AHL.  In a brief end-of-season cameo with the Canucks in 2010-11, Grabner scored five times and added six helpers in just 20 games.  So, from a certain perspective, it isn’t surprising that he was able to put up the numbers he did in Long Island.

On the other hand, those positive indicators were mixed with a good amount of negatives.  Grabner was dealt to Florida by the Canucks shortly after that splashy debut in the big leagues, and wasn’t able to make the team out of training camp.  That’s how the Islanders got him – they snagged Grabner off waivers when the Panthers tried to demote him to the AHL.  In three AHL seasons, Grabner never topped the 50-point plateau (though he always scored goals and was on pace to hit 50 points in 2009-10, prior to being recalled to the majors).

There are reasons to be concerned about Grabner’s goal-scoring; compare his shooting percentage last season with his three AHL years:


Season Goals Shots Shooting %
2007-08 (AHL) 22 185 11.9
2008-09 (AHL) 30 238 12.6
2009-10 (AHL) 15 129 11.6
2009-10 (NHL) 5 63 7.9
2010-11 (NHL) 34 228 14.9

The logical assumption would be that Grabner’s shooting percentage jumped last year because his development took a big step forward.  That’s unlikely, though – typically, NHL players don’t see their shooting percentage increase over the course of their career; they score more goals by improving their shot totals, while shooting percentage tends to slowly slide as players age.

So Grabner’s shooting percentage comes as a big shock – for three years in the minors (shooting on minor-league goaltenders) he’s a consistent 11.6% – 12.6% shooter.  His goals are coming largely because he shoots the puck a lot, rather than because he’s a particularly feared marksman.  For instance, during Grabner’s best AHL season shooting percentage-wise (2008-09) he tied for the team lead in goal-scoring, but wasn’t close when it came to shooting percentage.

Player Goals Shots Shooting %
Michael Grabner 30 238 12.6
Jason Krog 30 199 15.0
Jason Jaffray 23 136 16.9
Guillaume Desbiens 21 134 15.7
Mark Cullen 14 93 7.3
Michel Ouellet 13 118 11.0
Alexander Bolduc 12 123 9.8
Dusty Collins 11 63 17.5

The data is clear: Grabner’s a high-volume shooter, but not an especially lethal one.

Last year, Grabner jumped to the world’s best league, and was able to not only maintain his high volume of shots but also to put significantly more of them in the net.  All else being equal, we would expect a massive correction – we might expect to see Grabner’s goal totals drop by as many as 15.

The assist totals don’t offer much light, either.  Grabner managed 18 assists in 76 games last season; that’s a 19-assist pace over an 82-game season.  His average pace in the AHL was 24 assists over an 82-game season; he’s just not a big playmaker.

There is, however, one ray of light.  Here’s a list of all the Islanders’ forwards to record 40+ points, with their point production broken down by game state:

Player EV PTS SH PTS PP PTS Total Points
Tavares 43 0 24 67
Moulson 38 0 15 53
Parenteau 33 0 20 53
Grabner 41 7 4 52
Comeau 33 1 12 46
Nielsen 28 8 8 44

Grabner didn’t score at all on the power play, for the simple reason that he barely played in those situations.  Grabner ranked ninth among Islanders’ forwards in total power play ice-time; the 8th-ranked player was Doug Weight who got more minutes on the man advantage in just 18 games played.

Grabner had a phenomenally good season, and he’s not likely to score at the same pace on the penalty kill or at even-strength last year.  However, last season’s performance should earn him a shot at power play time, and that might be enough to help assuage the inevitable decline in his numbers.