The Florida Panthers have wrapped up day 3 of the on-ice portion of this off-season’s development camp. With 34 players invited to the annual event, one individual with very little size has had no issues fitting in with sizable competition . Rocco Grimaldi, taken in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Entry draft, has put on a show for Panthers fans this week, showing that size doesn’t always matter.
Grimaldi, 21, signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers last month after spending his last two full-seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he compiled 77 points (31G-46A-77P) in 82 games.
After falling short of the Frozen Four three-seasons ago, North Daktota earned another shot this past year when Grimaldi notched his first NCAA hat trick, beating the University of Wisconsin in the process. Shortly after, Grimaldi and North Dakota downed Ferris State in a gripping double overtime final, which sent North Dakota into the Frozen Four, impressing the collegiate hockey world.
But no one has been more impressed with Grimaldi than Brian Skrudland, the Panthers director of player development.
“When I went to the University of North Dakota, and I sat in the crowd, I felt so proud that Rocco Grimaldi was a Panther because people are talking about him. They’re all talking about him, getting ready for warm-ups saying ‘Hey, watch this little guy! He’s going to light it up’. He never disappoints.”
As any young athlete with the dream of becoming a professional, Grimaldi understands the challenges of the profession he has chosen. With the six free agent signings the Panthers made this off-season, Grimaldi knows that it’s not going to be an easy road ahead, but is hopeful of his future as Panther.
“I like a challenge though”, Grimaldi admits. “I think that’s going to be good for me, and obviously they brought in some good guys. I’m excited for what the future has in store here. I think they’re going to do some good things here in the coming years. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it sooner than later.”
With a near complete roster, and forwards like Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore fighting for a spot on the NHL lineup as well, Grimaldi knows his journey to the NHL has become more difficult.
“Obviously if playing in the NHL was easy, then everyone would play”, explained Grimaldi. “I knew it was going to be hard, but those are just the sacrifices you’re willing to make. If that means not being able to hang out with your friends for a night and training instead, then so be it. This is a business now. This is my job. I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best at my job”.
Though he continues to face challenges, this positive attitude is what makes Grimaldi an attractive commodity to Panthers faithful.
“He’s got a great attitude”, Skrudland said. “I think he’s matured as a person. He’s become a better teammate in the 3 years that I’ve had the opportunity to work with him. He’s a very attentive individual, smart, and caring individual to his teammates.”
Even with a loaded roster, Skrudland see’s no reason to believe that Rocco and the prospects attending camp don’t have a shot at cracking the line up come October.
“He’s going to fit in here great.” Skrudland said of Grimaldi. “You never know. He might just be that guy who says ‘You know what, Brendan Gallagher did it in Montreal, I’m coming in here, I’m not going to San Antonio (Rampage)’. But it’s for them (prospects) to decide”.
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