GRABBING FOR THE TOP
Michael Grabner’s already won immunity.
Despite being only 19, the Canuck’s first-round pick in June’s draft has already shown enough in three days to warrant a free pass to Vernon’s main camp.
“Yeah they told me already,” said Grabner. “But I’m still going to fight for it. I’m not going to just be like, ‘oh I’m going to make camp and I don’t have to do anything here.’ I’m still trying to score goals and work hard.”
Watch the Austrian speedster and that’s the first thing you'll notice – he always hustles. Head coach Alain Vigneault said Grabner was one of four players who stood out at Sunday’s scrimmage.
“I like his speed and I like his skill. He seems to be really confident with the puck.”
“I think right now he’s with a group of players that he can play with, and he should stand out because of his talent level.”
High expectations come with being a first-round pick. That’s just part of professional hockey, which is why Grabner logged more time in the gym this summer than the janitor at Fitness World.
Instead of returning to his native Austria in the off-season, Grabner elected to stay with his junior billets in Spokane to train. He finished the summer playing a tournament in Everett before arriving for camp at a solid 180-pounds.
“It’s definitely a higher level than anywhere else,” said the 6-foot Grabner. “You just have to fight your way through and try your best every time. There are a lot of good players out there who want to do the same.”
The added pressure of having Vigneault, Steve Tambellini, and Stan Smyl perched above the rink following every shift might have hampered Grabner early on, but he’s settled in and started to exploit defenders with his exceptional speed.
“I still have some work to do, but I’m getting more comfortable from day to day and tomorrow I think I can be better again.”
He’s facing a higher level of competition that he’s accustomed to in the WHL, but Grabner says it actually makes it easier.
“You have to make quicker decisions with the puck and that takes time to get used to it.”
“But I think it’s actually easier because everyone is so skilled here and you get the pass on the tape every time. In junior you have maybe decent players who sometimes can’t make the pass.”
Main camp in Vernon will be another step up again.
Grabner’s confident he can adjust again.
“I have good speed I think and can find the open holes. I’ll try to show it again tomorrow. I haven’t scored yet, I had a couple of chances today but I didn’t score.”
He might not be filling the net just yet, but Grabner’s shown he’s worth every bit of his 14th overall selection.
The goals will come.