Since the 2009-10 NHL season, New York Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski has logged over 4,437 minutes at even-strength. Despite changing teams a year ago and joining the Washington Capitals, Grabovski has spent an astounding 48% of those five-on-five minutes playing alongside former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate and fellow Islanders free agent acquisition Nikolai Kulemin.
Over the past five years, Grabovski and Kulemin have logged over 2,133 minutes playing on the same line at even-strength. Despite playing on an undermanned Maple Leafs squad and in front of consistently woeful goaltending (including starts from Jonas Gustavsson, J.S. Giguere, Vesa Toskala among others), Grabovski and Kulemin managed to out-outscore their opponents in those minutes.
When both Grabovski and Kulemin were on the ice between 2009 and 2013, Toronto also managed to control 51.3 percent of even-strength shot attempts. That's a solid number, but it's made even more impressive when one considers that Grabovski and Kulemin accomplished this while playing on a club that was generally glued in their own end of the rink.
Despite their familiarity and history of success playing together, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano isn't certain that Grabovski and Kulemin will function as regular line-mates next season.
"But, we do know what the advanced stats say about them together," Capuano added in talking to Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.
In other Islanders lineup notes, Capuano suggested - fantasy owners may want to pay attention to this - that young forward Brock Nelson will get a long look on the first-line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Presumably the likes of Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome would also be contenders for that cushy job. One player who won't be considered though is Frans Nielsen, who had some instant chemistry with Tavares and Okposo on the power-play last season.
"Frans is one of the smartest players in hockey," said Capuano. "And he thinks the game as a center"
So it would seem that the Islanders are dead set then on rolling with Tavares, Nielsen and Grabovski down the middle of their top-three forward lines. That could be the most imposing group of centerman in the Eastern Conference.
If the Islanders' new-look goaltending tandem holds up, Capuano could be cooking with oil.
[Stats in this piece courtesy stats.hockeyanalysis.com]