Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders: Biggest Surprise of the NHL Season?

Matthew CalamiaCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2011

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 05: P.A. Parenteau #15 and Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders leave the ice following a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Nassau Coliseum on March 5, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you said before the season that Michael Grabner would be in Calder Trophy talk, people would have laughed.

If you then followed up that statement by saying he would be a finalist, people would have said you were crazy.

But sports can be funny that way. Grabner, who was picked up by the Islanders off waivers from the Florida Panthers early in the season, has blossomed on Long Island.

Through 70 games this season, Grabner has tallied 48 points, including 31 goals, tops among NHL rookies.

You think the Panthers, who currently sit 14th in the Eastern Conference, regret waiving him?

Grabner has been grabbing headlines on and off Long Island all year, something few Islanders players can say they've done in a great deal of time—aside from melees with the Penguins and goaltender Rick DiPietro getting KO'ed.

Islanders fans have been starved for a player who can get them out of their seats on a daily basis.

Sure, John Tavares is turning into a great NHL player, but he doesn't have the explosiveness Grabner possesses. Grabner can change a game with his stick and his speed.

Speaking of speed, Grabner was the lone Islander to represent the team on All-Star weekend, and he didn't disappoint. His time of 14.061 in the speed-skating competition had people buzzing all weekend.

Grabner has some competition for the Calder, awarded to the league's top rookie.

Carolina Hurricanes sensation Jeff Skinner is still the front-runner for the award. Skinner, just 18 years old, has 25 goals and 53 points this season and was named to the NHL All-Star game, not the rookie team.

Even if Grabner doesn't win Rookie of the Year, the Islanders really struck gold with him.

He's the kind of player fans want to see. He resembles Marian Gaborik, who also has world-class speed and sniping ability.

One man's misfortune is another man's treasure. Silly Panthers.