Following the Islanders two wins over the Ottawa Senators on Monday in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Head Coach Jack Capuano was asked about which players stood out to him.
With 40 players on the ice in the split-squad games and lots of positives to draw from the wins, Capuano singled out the night game’s first star, Mikhail Grabovski, as one of his best players.
Grabovski was all over the scoresheet Monday, recording a goal and an assist on a line with Nikolay Kulemin and Cory Conacher. Grabovski showed some early chemistry with Conacher – his chemistry with Kulemin is well-documented – and the center showed some added versatility by playing a few shifts on the wing.
“No matter who you are, he’s easy to play with,” Conacher said. “He creates space for himself, but also knows how to find you as well. He’s got good speed and obviously a lot of skill. He’s one of those players that you see in pre-scout [when you play against him]. You definitely have an eye on him.”
Grabovski used his speed to create a breakaway in the first period and again on his goal in the second period. Conacher saucered a pass onto Grabovski’s backhand and the Belarusian quickly corralled it and snapped a shot off the post and behind Craig Anderson.
Despite his quiet demeanor off the ice, Conacher said Grabovski isn’t shy when he laces up the skates.
“If I end up playing on that line for any long period of time, I’m going to have to start learning Russian,” Conacher said. “He communicates well on the ice, which is also why it’s easy to play with him. Whether he’s yelling at me in Russian or English you know where he is on the ice.”
His skating has really improved, but his intelligence of the game has always been there. He’s getting more pucks to the net. - Head Coach Jack Capuano
What Grabovski was to the late game, Brock Nelson was to the early game, leading the Islanders with a goal and an assist and making an impact on his coach.
“He’s been playing really well and his development is really coming along,” Capuano said. “His skating has really improved, but his intelligence of the game has always been there. He’s getting more pucks to the net and that’s a big thing for me.”
Nelson was strong on the puck and a dominant force during Monday’s game. His reflexes looked sharp, as did his stickhandling in tight, adding another weapon to his developing arsenal. Nelson utilized both skills on his goal Monday, turning his body, curling off the goal line and sliding the puck underneath Senators goalie Andrew Hammond.
“[Ryan] Strome made a play to get down low and I felt like I had a little bit of time, so I just tried to jam the puck in front and it squeaked through,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s power-play goal opened the scoring 46 seconds into the game, but Capuano said one of Nelson’s strengths is his versatility. The 6’3, 206 lbs. center can play on the top power-play unit, or the top penalty kill.
“He’s creating more offense," Capuano said. "We can put him on the power play and he’s one of our top unit penalty killers. He’s playing in all situations right now.”