The way his coach sees it, Mikhail Grabovski is the Toronto Maple Leafs' best player.
Not Phil Kessel, who cost two first-round draft picks. Not Dion Phaneuf, once God's gift to the blueline. And not defenceman Mike Komisarek, the team's third-most expensive skater, who is playing third-pair minutes.
"He's easily our best player," Ron Wilson said of Grabovski after a 4-1 defeat to the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday. "He works, probably, the hardest at practice. And all the work he's put in shooting the puck before and after practice is really starting to pay off. He's got a sneaky-good shot, and he's hitting the net now."
Grabovski scored Toronto's only goal - a fluky one that somehow eluded Roberto Luongo's glove in the third period - in an eighth consecutive loss to the Canucks. Kessel was superb, generating about a half dozen solo chances, but Wilson wasn't about to pardon an offence that ranks 28th in the NHL.
"Only one line scored again, and other guys have to do what they're paid to do, which is score some goals," Wilson said.
"Grabo's line is going and scoring some goals," said Kessel, who has two goals in his past 11 games. "I had some chances to score goals, and I've got to bury [them] That's what I'm here for."
Grabovski, a 26-year-old Belarusian, is doing his part, but wasn't willing to acknowledge Wilson's praise in defeat. The second-line centre has six goals in his past seven games, and attributes his surge to more ice time and "great partners" in wingers Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin.
Heading into the finale of a three-game tour through Western Canada, Phaneuf admitted some fatigue after crisscrossing the country to attend his grandmother's funeral in Prince Edward Island after the first game. Phaneuf, an Edmonton native and former member of the Calgary Flames, played more than 24 minutes against Vancouver and will surely welcome the holiday break, which begins after a home game Monday against the Atlanta Thrashers.
For Komisarek, the respite comes just as he is returning from injury, not after a period of heavy use. He played just 10 minutes 34 seconds Saturday - after playing just 10:35 in two of his past three games before being deactivated - and suggested that he is still recovering from hand and finger ailments.
"The hand has been banged up all week and the finger is probably a little better. … I'm not gripping the stick as tight," he said. "I've got to earn that ice time back from the coaches and I'm not going to point the finger or blame anyone else."