With the New York Islanders having struggled through their toughest month of 2014-15 and dropped into third place (by tiebreaker) for the first time in months, there was a welcome sight at practice Friday: Mikhail Grabovski, in the flesh, on skates, looking like a hockey player.
Grabovski first missed time as an Islander with a concussion back in October, after taking a thunderous hit from San Jose's John Scott.
It happened again on Feb. 19, when Nashville's Eric Nystrom took him out in remarkably similar fashion.
There is on-going debate about how much, if at all, prior concussions are a factor in future recovery, but Grabovski has some history, including an alarming return to action within the same game when playing as a Maple Leaf back in 2011.
The Islanders and Grabovski have understandably taken their time with the latest hit, so seeing Grabovski back on ice -- even in yellow non-contact jersey -- is a great sign. When healthy, Grabovski has basically delivered as billed: not piling up points, but always being a positive possession player who makes his teammates better.
It's no coincidence that the Islanders' leveling off has overlapped with Grabovski's absence. (There are several factors, but Grabovski is certainly one). If he can come back, it increases the Isles' chances of recapturing their mid-season peak form.
Non-contact training is step 4 in the graduated concussion protocol, so barring a setback, he's getting there.
Of course, as we've seen with Kyle Okposo's return from an eye injury in early March, coming back after a long layoff does not equate to immediately performing at the level where a player left off.
The Isles have four games remaining in the regular season, and Grabovski still isn't cleared to play. But he wouldn't be skating if they didn't think he at least had a chance to return sometime this (post)season. The best-case scenario might be that he's cleared with just a game or two remaining to try to get back into form for the playoffs, but even a mid-playoff series return would be a welcome sight.
That timeline isn't ideal, but as valuable as Grabovski is, once he's ready to go the Isles can ill afford not to try.