Sunday, August 12, 2012

One To Watch: Florida Panthers

If I'm the owner of a NHL franchise in need of a rebuild and a GM to do the job, Dale Tallon is at the top of my list. The man has done a masterful job with the Florida Panthers, in my opinion, since taking over the job a handful of years ago. 

Florida currently boasts a stable of prospects that is ridiculously deep with high-end talent. Assuming there is a NHL season in 2012-13, Jonathan Huberdeau will be playing in it. Jacob Markstrom is considered by many to be the top goalie prospect out there. Quinton Howden is the kind of player who might be a better pro than he was a junior because of the support cast he'll benefit from. Nick Bjugstad is headed back to Minnesota and potential Hobey Baker territory as a guy poised to dominate at the collegiate level.

Michael Matheson, Alex Petrovic, Sam Brittain, Michael Houser... the list goes on and on.

With a plethora of great prospects and storylines to pick from I went with a guy who hasn't played a meaningful game in over 10 months.

Photo: Kory Wallen

Rocco Grimaldi (C)

University of North Dakota
5'6, 165 lbs
Drafted 33rd Overall in 2011

Opinions on whether Grimaldi will ever play in the NHL are split. Some will argue that at his size and now injury record, it's probably going to be physically taxing on the 5'6 forward. Others will counter that by listing the array of players in the NHL right now who are not only surviving but contributing at an impressive rate. I made that same argument a couple of days ago when profiling Boston's Carter Camper and I feel very similar when talking about Grimaldi. 

I recall conversations I had with scouts during the 2010-11 season, Grimaldi's draft year, who described him as have top 5 overall talent trapped in a 5th round body. Even as he slid out of the first round in 2011 there were informed hockey minds who suggested that teams would live to regret passing on Grimaldi because of size concerns. 

Last year was a write off for Grimaldi, literally as the NCAA gave him back a year of eligibility because of the knee injury that prevented him from playing beyond game 4 of the season at UND. 

In those four games picked up two points, a goal and an assist, for the Sioux who would miss his offence the rest of the year. 

North Dakota wasn't the only team that could have used his services last year. Team USA surprisingly struggled at the 2012 WJC in Alberta and had he been healthy, Grimaldi would almost certainly have been a central figure on the club.    

Heading into the new season Grimaldi is still going to be faced with all of the same questions he had last year. Will he be able to score at the NCAA level the way he had with the US-NTDP (25 points in 23 games) and the way people expect he can? Is he too small? 

Photo: IIHF Images
Now he'll also have to overcome a serious knee injury, months of rehab and a lot of time away from game action and practice. Grimaldi did not take part in Florida's summer development sessions in July as he continued to heal up. Grimaldi also skipped the recent U20 USA camp in Lake Placid in order to fully prepare for the coming year. 

Everyone I've spoken with say there is no concern that he won't be ready to go once North Dakota opens the season in October. If that's the case then he should also be in a position to claim his spot of the roster for USA when they head to Russia for the 2013 WJC. But will he be the same player after the injury that he was before it? That's the big question. 

It's also a major reason why I think Rocco Grimaldi is Florida's "One to Watch" in 2012-13.   

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