A day after the Islanders failed to make a major impact on the opening day of free agency, the team made a pretty big splash just a few hours ago. The Islanders went out and signed Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to 4 year contracts worth 20 million and 16.75 million dollars, respectively. The two forwards have been teammates before, as they played with the Toronto Maple Leafs together for 5 years.
Adding Grabovski, a center by trade, really saturates the Islanders at that position. The team now has 5 legitimate centers (and that discounts Ryan Strome,who is a natural center, but saw minimal time at that position last season).
That does pose a bit of a luxury problem, but it makes sense for Grabovski to be playing center on this team. The Islanders struggled mightily in face-offs last season, and Grabovski could help tackle that problem. He won 51.1% of all face-offs he took last season, better than any of the regular centers on the team. That face-off skill can go a long way, especially when a team needs help in the department.
As for where Grabovski fits in terms of being a center, it’s a toss-up between the 2nd and 3rd line. His point production would be enticing on the second line with more skilled players, but after the season Frans Nielsen just had, it’s tough to simply give Grabovski the spot.
Garth Snow has said that the Islanders like the idea of both Nielsen and Grabovski seeing 2nd line time. A tweet was sent from Arthur Staple, paraphrasing Garth’s feeling on the placement of Grabovski.
Snow says #Isles see Grabovski as No. 2 center, same as Nielsen. Also feel Grabovski can play wing if needed.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) July 2, 2014
Ultimately, it looks like Mikhail will be seeing both 2nd and 3rd line time at center, and hopefully a decision will be made as to where he’ll be spending most of the time at some point during the regular season.
Kulemin, like his former teammate, is a bit of a toss-up here as well. He is a left winger, and the Islanders have been looking for a bona-fide player at that spot for some time now. After failing to sign Thomas Vanek, it would make sense to give Kulemin some time up top with the likes of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo and see what he’s capable of.
However, Nikolai Kulemin has developed chemistry with Mikhail Grabovski during their time in Toronto. The two played fairly well with each other, and produced nicely with the Maple Leafs. Pairing Kulemin and Grabovski to start the season would also make sense, which again creates a mini conflict.
With Kulemin, it comes down to wherever he’ll produce more. Whether it’ll be on the top line with one of the best hockey players in the world, or with a man he’s played well with for a long time is to be determined.
These two signings solidify an Islanders offense that now could even afford to shed a player or two. The idea of trading for a defenseman makes a lot of sense, which is only more reason to feel a bit better about this upcoming season.