The Islanders added some firepower Wednesday, signing skilled forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to a pair of four-year deals.
The close friends played together for five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, both establishing career highs in scoring, as linemates, in 2010-11. Grabovski had 58 points (29G, 29A) while Kulemin scored 30 goals and 27 assists.
Grabovski comes to the Islanders after playing out a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals that saw him score 35 points (13G, 22A) in 58 games. Kulemin joins the Islanders after six years with the Leafs and is coming off of a 20-point (9G, 11A) season.
Islanders Assistant Coach Greg Cronin coached Grabovski and Kulemin for three seasons in Toronto and had a first-hand look at General Manager Garth Snow’s new acquisitions. Cronin spoke highly of both players’ work ethic, dedication and commitment to the game.
“For young players to watch Kulemin and Grabovski work, not just during practice, but in the weight room and prior to practice, is a real blessing for a young team,” Cronin said. “They will go out and have a purpose to everything they do and take a real pride in everything they do.”
Grabovski, a natural center, won 54% of his draws last season; going 346-295. He’s won more than 50% in each of the last three seasons.
“That faceoff success speaks to his intensity and competitiveness,” Cronin said. “I told Garth he is going to work extremely hard. He’s got that second effort on pucks, a lot of quickness, he jumps into space well.”
Grabovski’s ability to win draws translates into immediate possession for his team and the Belarusian is a creative, reliable player in the offensive zone and down the middle.
“He has a very high enthusiasm to play offensively and has a lot of confidence in his ability to make plays,” Cronin said.
Kulemin adds size (6’1, 225 pounds) and a scoring touch to the Isles wing. The Magnitogorsk, Russia native threw 153 hits last season, second amongst Leafs forwards. Kulemin has a reputation for being a hard player to play against, a tireless worker who plays a North American game and has a good net presence.
“[After Kulemin scored 30 goals] the comments were that five or six went off his shin pads, but that’s fine,” Cronin said. “You should be at the net and the pucks should be bouncing off your skate and shin pads.”
Kulemin’s production dipped in the last two full seasons, as his defensive responsibilities increased, but he’s averaging 15 goals per season for his career. Cronin says that’s a realistic, if not modest goal for the quiet 27-year-old and thinks a change of scenery could boost his production.
“He sees the game the way the coaches do,” Cronin said. “His body language on the ice speaks a thousand words. He just does everything the right way.”
Grabovski and Kulemin became friends while playing in Toronto and will have instant chemistry should they be linemates. The friendship between the animated Belarusian and the quiet Russian should ease the transition for both players, who are heading to a new home together.
Their trademark hustle and scoring touch will fit in well on Long Island.