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Grabner Enjoying Successful First Season on Broadway

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

When the news had broke on July 1 that the Rangers had signed forward Michael Grabner, many saw it as a move to improve the team's penalty kill, while also adding depth to the squad's bottom-six.

The Rangers have gotten that and then some, as the 29-year-old is leading the team with 26 goals, which is the most he's scored since setting his career-high of 34 tallies as a rookie in in 2010-11 with the Islanders.

"I knew I could score goals," Grabner told NYRangers.com in a recent interview. "I did it my whole life wherever I played, except the last couple of seasons."

The saying the numbers don't lie doesn't apply to Grabner last season. He - and many others - have talked about all the chances he had in his one season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He finished with just nine goals in 80 games, but it was more about a lack of finish rather than a lack of opportunities.

Grabner said when the puck doesn't go in, it takes its toll on a player. That, according to Grabner, has been the biggest change for him thus far in New York.

"I had a great time in Toronto last year. I had a lot of ice time, a lot of chances to play," Grabner said. "I had to get back to building confidence. It's been said a lot that I had a lot of chances last year that didn't go in. I think I could have scored a little more than I did, but obviously I was playing a little bit of a different role. 

"This year the puck is just going in and stuff starts to work for itself out there," Grabner added.

Video: NYR@CBJ: Grabner races in and scores for late lead

While the offense has been a huge asset for Grabner - and the Rangers - this season, what impresses his teammates the most is that the scoring isn't coming at the expense of his defense.

Grabner was brought in to improve a penalty kill that was 26th in the NHL a season ago and thus far, he's helped do that. New York is currently 11th in the NHL on the penalty kill and Grabner - who is a team-leading plus-28 this season - is averaging 1:43 of shorthanded ice time per game.

"[The offense] impressive for sure, but I think he goes about his game the right way," captain Ryan McDonagh said. "Certainly he has confidence right now, but he's playing well within our structure. He's accountable in his defensive play and he's trusted there because he's good in that role.

"There's certainly a lot of guys in this league who have speed and skill, but he's a smart player too," McDonagh continued. "He understands when there's a situation to utilize that, when to be creative or when to be patient."

Head coach Alain Vigneault said a big appeal to bringing in Grabner was his versatility as a player who can fill different roles and move throughout the lineup when injuries inevitably occurred. 

"I thought we were getting a guy that obviously can help us on the penalty kill, had theoretically - when you make up your lines in the summer, you say this guy is probably a fourth liner, if somebody doesn't do well we can slide him up. That's sort of where we had him slotted."

There was familiarity between Grabner and the coaching staff. Vigneault coached Grabner for 29 games, including the playoffs, during the 2009-10 season in Vancouver, while Associate Coach Scott Arniel coached him with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

Grabner said that familiarity played a role in his decision to sign with the Rangers.

"I talked to my agent over the summer and I talked to Arniel over the phone before I signed here," Grabner said. "It makes it easier coming in and knowing what to expect, or the way they want to play their game and what the systems are. It's been a while, but I knew they want to play a fast game, which obviously works in my favor."

Grabner has been part of the Rangers' most consistent trio this season with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller. Grabner is enjoying a renaissance season offensively, while Hayes is three away from his career-best 45 points. Miller, meanwhile, has already eclipsed the 43 points he set last season with 46 through 56 games.

"He's a big part of the team. He's got 26 goals," Miller told NYRangers.com. "He's scoring a lot of goals for us and that's going to win you some games. He's playing awesome. He doesn't waste much energy when he's out there. He puts his speed to use and that's why he's so effective."

Grabner said what has made that line so effective is the way each member uses his strengths to create chances for his linemates.

"When you get together with two guys and you have chemistry from the start, it makes it a lot easier," Grabner said. "I think we're all different types of players. We work well together. 

"These two guys like to have the puck and make plays and keep it in the offensive zone," Grabner added, "and I just try to make some room for them, especially on the breakouts to push their dman or the other team back and give them time to carry the puck through the neutral zone or get a chance when they step up. Just three different types of players and we just take advantage out there."

Video: NSH@NYR: Grabner roofs Hayes' dish from in close

Another - and possibly the biggest - positive for Grabner has been playing meaningful games again. Last season, the Leafs were in the middle of a rebuild and finished last in the NHL with 69 points.

While he enjoyed his time in Toronto, Grabner said it's been nice getting back to playoff-style hockey.

"It was a rebuild last year and a lot different players coming in and out," Grabner reflected. "But it's obviously fun [to play important games]. That's what you play for. You want to win that big prize at the end. To do that you've got to have these kinds of games in February and March and that's obviously fun. It's a tough division this year. Everyone seems to be winning a lot of games and it's really tight. Just have to keep pace with it and get hot towards the end of the playoffs."

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