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An attention Grabner

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
As far as Vancouver Canucks prospects go, most people start and end with Cody Hodgson.

Without having ever played a regular season game for the Canucks, Hodgson is already pegged as the future face of the franchise; he’s a beacon of hope who is in the back of everyone’s minds when times are tough in Vancouver.

Before Hodgson that player was Michael Grabner.

The now 21-year-old Austrian forward was drafted 14th overall by the Canucks in 2006, his blazing speed and deft stick-handling instantly made him the cream of the organization’s prospect crop.

Being the highest forward selected by Vancouver since the Sedins, who were snatched up second and third overall in 1999 came with some heavy baggage though, a load Grabner wasn’t quite ready to carry.

As they say, that was then and this is now.

In addition to being the most explosive offensive threat for the Manitoba Moose this season, Grabner recently led his home country into battle in Hanover, Germany, with a spot in the 2010 Winter Olympics on the line.

Despite a valiant effort from the Austrians, who finished the four-team tournament with a 2-1 record, the Germans qualified for the 2010 Games in Vancouver by sweeping their games.

Grabner was the backbone of Team Austria notching five goals in three games as he led his team and the tournament in scoring.

“It was a great experience, I haven’t played for my country in a long, long time,” said Grabner, who last competed for Austria at the under-20 level.

“I got to play with some guys that I’ve never played with before and it was good to get to know them for world championships or something in the future.”

Making friends was the silver lining of the competition, but Grabner wasn’t there to up his Facebook numbers.

He wanted to win and he wanted to win badly; even though he put on a scoring show in the first two games, Grabner was disappointed with the way he performed against Team Germany in a 2-1 loss that prevented Austria from moving on.

“I was hoping to do it a little bit more against the Germans but they played a really good defensive system, but I still think I could have done more.

“Our line didn’t really get anything going, we put a lot of pressure on them in the last power play that we had, but we just couldn’t put the puck in the net.

“They had a solid group of guys and they played a good defensive game and once they got a 2-1 lead in the third period, they just chipped the puck out and they just sat back and played good defence.”

Despite being held off the scoresheet versus Germany, Grabner was satisfied with his overall showing.

With the world watching he displayed the form many expected from day one, the form that he has been consistently displaying this season with the Manitoba Moose.

Grabner had 19 goals and nine assists and was a plus-15 in 39 games on the farm before jet setting overseas and missing five games, yet he returned with pizzazz netting two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 Moose victory over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Feb. 11.

“I deal pretty good with jetlag,” laughed Grabner, who was also named the game’s first star.

In that contest and the three since, Grabner has skated alongside Jason Krog and Jason Jaffray on the team’s top line. He’s there not only because he’s as dangerous as Manitoba’s forwards come, his breakaway speed is blinding and his ability to create scoring chances from very little is uncanny, but also because consistency and Grabner can finally be paired in the same sentence.

With 11 points (9-2-11) in January, Grabner had his most productive month ever and he now has 21 goals and 10 assists alongside a plus-16 rating this season; he’s still 13 points off his career high 44 (22-22-44) from last season, but it’s the way Grabner is accumulating points that has him smiling.

The longest Grabner has gone without scoring this season is six games, compared to a 20 game drought last year that stretched from Jan. 25 to March 9.

“Going 20 games without scoring wasn’t fun and hopefully I don’t have that again this year. I wasn’t really too happy with myself last time, so I’m just trying to play every game the same and help out where I can.”

Grabner credits his progressing maturity and positive reinforcement from Manitoba head coach Scott Arniel – “he always tells me to shoot the puck more when I get the chance” – with his consistent play, and luck as also played a part.

The right-winger’s career numbers could have been eclipsed already this season were it not for some slow-goings in November and December. Further proof that Grabner is closer than ever to making the jump to the NHL comes in that he played his way through those tough months without wavering on his own strengths.

“I’m always a little of a slow starter and I had chances at the beginning of the season, but the puck just wasn’t going in and I was hitting a lot of posts and stuff too. Now I’m getting a little bit more lucky bounces too, so it’s good.

“You just can’t come down on yourself too much during those stretches, you just have to keep focused and keep playing your style and don’t change your game.

"Sometimes that can be the biggest problem if you try to change things. I’m doing the same things I did in November and December, now I’m just finding the net a little more.”

Grabner will continue finding the net and helpers others do the same, as will Hodgson, as the pair builds a strong case towards playing in Vancouver next season.

The international stage has benefited from the stellar play of both forwards this year, now it’s time the West Coast got a little taste.

Quest for 30
Grabner hits the gym
Offside with Grabner

  5 - Goals in three games for Grabner with Team Austria

+14 - Grabner's plus/minus with Manitoba this season

31 - Points for Grabner this season in 43 games (21-10-31)

44 - Grabner's career-high AHL points (22-22-44)

Rising star
Prospect profile 1
Prospect profile 2
Changing roles

+ Click for larger photo

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