Guess what folks, so far this season, it isn't Phil Kessel. Most Leaf fans spend their time arguing over the other "top 3" players we need to skate with Kessel, and whether or not that's a valid assertion is debatable. So far this season though, Phil Kessel isn't even contributing at the level expected from a top 6 forward, not even close to a top 3.
Mikhail Grabovski is the only player on the Leafs that is currently in the echelon stats heads would consider a top 3 forward. He has been producing numbers that inclined one to believe he was trending in that direction for a couple of years, and it looks like he's finally putting together the production necessary to fill that role. How would I defend this? Read on after the jump.
Earlier in the year, Tom Awad at Puck Prospectus undertook an effort to define 4 tiers of player in the NHL. Good players tended to excel in areas such as puck possession, shot quality, and situational usage by the coach. Over the past year those of us here at PPP have made numerous efforts to indicate the high quality of play being shown by Grabovski in all of these areas, despite his "average" production (as defined by some viewers of Leaf games - Bill Watters?)
Grabovski, Kulemin, and MacArthur have been facing tougher competition than the Kessel line. Grabovski's line's Corsi REL QoC is higher than the likes of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Chris Stewart, James Neal, Brad Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Claude Giroux. It's very comparable to Marian Hossa, Wojtek Wolski, Brad Boyes and Milan Lucic.
Grabovski's Points Per 60 minutes at ES is 2.14 - identical to Paul Stastny and Tomas Fleischmann from Colorado, and ahead of Ville Leino, Wayne Simmonds, Alex Steen, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Sharp, and Miiko Koivu. It should be noted that the cut-off observed by Tom Awad for a 1st line level player is 2.1 P/60 at ES. Grabovski is the only forward on the Leafs above that cut off level.
The most noticeable improvement in Grabovski's game is on the power play, where his Pts per 60 has jumped to 4.57, which is second best amongst the team's regular PP forwards behind Clarke MacArthur who has 5.94 pts per 60. Grabovski's PP number is on par with Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers, or Johan Franzen from Detroit. He's been more productive with the man advantage than the likes of Thomas Vanek, Claude Giroux, Nik Antropov, Mike Fisher, Matt Duchene, Dustin Brown, or Daniel Alfredsson... oh and of course Phil Kessel.
Despite what many observers have been saying this season about a lack of front line talent in Toronto, it is interesting to note that only 3 forwards are playing at the level of a top 6 forward, and only one player is playing at the level of a top 3. Phil Kessel isn't one of the group though, and that has to be both worrying, and interesting to Leaf fans. If Kessel can ever get his game back on track, that brings the number up to 4 forwards who are worthy of top 6 status on an NHL team. It sure would be nice to know the Leafs have a group of forwards capable of producing on ANY team in the NHL.