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Grabovski trade paying off for Leafs; Seven Goals So Far; Belarussian gets under skins' of Canadiens // National Post.
TORONTO - The first time he saw him play for the Hamilton Bulldogs, Mike Penny remembers writing "NHL prospect" next to Mikhail Grabovski's name.
But there was an obvious reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs director of pro scouting did not like the flashy forward.
Generously listed at 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds, Grabovski lacked NHL size. He also missed a combined 25 games last season with ankle injuries. And there was an incident where he reportedly threatened to return to Russia, because he was not getting as much ice time as he wanted.
But Penny's rationale for not liking Grabovski was much more logical.
"He kept scoring on us," Penny said.
Grabovski had five goals in back-to-back games against the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies last season. But now that he is a Leaf, he is scoring for -- and not against --Toronto.
The 24-year-old, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens last summer in exchange for prospect Greg Pateryn and the Leafs' second-round draft pick in 2010, has a team-leading seven goals, six of which have come in Toronto's last four games.
He had a goal and an assist in a heated 6-3 win over his former team on Saturday.
"For whatever reason, Montreal wasn't a good fit for him," said Penny. "But it's worked out for us."
It has also worked out for Grabovski, who is getting in Toronto what he could not get in Montreal: an opportunity.
"The Canadiens knew what they had in Mikhail," Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said on Saturday. "[But] they've got an unbelievable group of forwards with so much skill and he probably wasn't going to get a fair opportunity."
Drafted 150th overall by the Canadiens in 2004, Grabovski arrived in North America two years ago. The team had no room for another offensively skilled player, so the Belarusian was assigned to the minors to work on his defensive game.
It was a scenario that is familiar to many Montreal players.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins all spent significant time in Hamilton before earning permanent jobs in the NHL. But Grabovski reportedly grew tired of waiting.
Last season, he played just 24 games for the Canadiens and was bounced in and out of the lineup. After being scratched for a March game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Grabovski reportedly left the team to go see his agent in California. Though the Canadiens were also heading to Los Angeles for a game against the Kings, Grabovski chose to travel alone.
That was about the time when Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher began asking Penny for his opinion on the disgruntled prospect.
"There was a little bit of risk, but a lot of reward," Penny said. "Maybe he didn't buy into what Guy Carbonneau wanted him to do. But that didn't bother me ... I told Cliff, 'This guy can play.' "
Grabovski proved that against Montreal on Saturday.
Aside from being on the ice for three of Toronto's goals, the first-line centre nearly incited a riot for butt-ending goaltender Carey Price. For the rest of the game, Grabovski seemed to have a target on his back, as Saku Koivu and Sergei Kostitsyn each took healthy runs at him.
But in the end, the young centre got the last laugh.
"I don't know the facts, what happened over there, why he didn't get a chance to play or not," said linemate Niklas Hagman, who scored twice on Saturday. "But for sure, he wanted to show the coach and the other players on the team that he is a good player. And he did a pretty good job."