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Grabovski benefits from crash course; Belarusian is a quick study after benching // Toronto Star
Call it the Belarusian evolution.
Certainly, when you hear Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson praising Mikhail Grabovski for his play at both ends of the ice and for his work away from the puck, you know something has changed.
And when Grabovski talks enthusiastically about his planned workout regimen this summer and his desire to work with an English tutor during the off-season, you understand some maturity has crept into the attitude of the erstwhile flighty forward.
And when you see Grabovski on the ice in the final minute, with Toronto clinging to a one-goal lead, as was the case in the Leafs' 8-6 win over Calgary Saturday, a victory the 25-year-old clinched with an empty netter, it is quite possible hell has indeed frozen over.
Maybe the Leafs weren't so foolish when they - firstly GM Cliff Fletcher who acquired him, then successor Brian Burke, who believes in his upside - decided Grabovski could be part of their long-term rebuild. No one ever doubted his individual skills, but too often he exhibited that flash and dash as a lone wolf on the ice, playing in a selfish manner at cross-purposes to the team concept. Then, when he hit a slump like he recently did with a 17-game goalless streak, it became easy to question his usefulness in the lineup.
But yes, something has changed in Grabovski.
"He's a young player and that's what happens," Wilson says of Grabovski's growth. "To learn how to be consistent is about preparation and not taking a bad game or an off-night to heart. That's just experience. It's a lot to play in this league and average 15 or 16 minutes a night. He's not a big guy, he has to get stronger. He knows that now."
Grabovski, from the moment he arrived in Toronto in an off-season trade with Montreal (the Leafs sent the Canadiens a second-round draft pick and the rights to Greg Pateryn) understood this represented a new beginning for him, a chance to get the ice time he felt he was denied with the Habs.
But there were moments when that point was further driven home during the season. A benching at Buffalo was a wake-up call that could have sent the first-year Leaf into a deep funk. But he looked at it - at least he says this now - as Wilson trying to help him.
Then there were the changes in the dressing room. Veterans leaving, other young players coming in, the team still able to compete in most games. It made Grabovski want to work harder to remain part of what he sees as a positive future.
"It's a young team - six, seven players (actually nine) getting their first time in the NHL," says Grabovski in his improving English. "Lots of good young players; (John) Mitchell is a very good player, (Nikolai) Kulemin is; lot of guys. (Anton) Stralman, (Luke) Schenn ... it's a very young team and I think we'll try to make a very good team in the future."
To ensure he is and feels a part of that, Grabovski said he wants to work at improving his language skills - "I can understand but I don't feel English in my head. I need to practice," he says.
Grabovski said he will spend the off-season in Belarus - he is hoping to play for his home country at the world championship if the Leafs are officially eliminated from playoff contention - where he will look at hiring an English teacher and increase his off-ice work.
"I'm really happy. Coach gives me a lot of ice time. I start real well but after a little while, it was hard for me," said Grabovski.
"I know what I need to do in the summer - a little bit of conditioning. In the NHL, there are a lot of games. In Hamilton (in the AHL) it was a little bit easy because it was sometimes not fast and not hard games. Here, every game is hard."