Before the 2019-20 season, the five-foot, six-inch tall Rocco Grimaldi had skated in just 90 NHL games over the course of five years. He had scored just 10 goals and taken only 146 shots, effectively sealing his fate as an AHL regular. If there is a better epitome of a career comeback out there, I'd like to hear it.
When David Poile signed Grimaldi out of free agency in July of 2018, the intention was for Grimaldi to more or less perform clean-up duties in the fourth-line center role for a season. He was supposed to be as underwhelming as he had been during his stints in Florida and Colorado. In the 2018-19 season- Grimaldi's first as a Predator- he notched 13 points in 53 games. Up until Grimaldi donned a Preds uniform, he had only recorded 10 points in the NHL.
Grimaldi's effort was rewarded with another one-year contract last August and, just six months later, he signed a two-year extension with the Preds, keeping him in gold until the summer of 2022.
It would simply be an understatement to say that Grimaldi is playing the best hockey of his professional career this season. He has already more than doubled his point total from last year, and has scored as many goals this year (10) as he had in his five prior NHL seasons.
This season alone, Grimaldi has taken 122 shots- accounting for about 84 percent of the total shots he'd taken over the previous five seasons. His 31 points are tied with Craig Smith and Kyle Turris for the ninth-most on the team, and his +10 on-ice rating ranks fifth.
For the better part of the 2019-20 season, Grimaldi has been teamed with Smith and Nick Bonino on what has become the Predators' most successful forward line. Bonino, Smith, and Grimaldi rank sixth, ninth, and tenth, respectively, in points on the team. While Bonino and Smith rank second and third in goals, Grimaldi's altruism shines through by outpacing his linemates in assists, with 21 on the season.
Arguably his most memorable goal of the season came against Columbus on Feb. 22, when, with a Straight Face To End All Straight Faces, he slammed the book closed on the game after eight rounds of the shootout.
Grimaldi has shared a lot of offensive similarities with his linemates this season, but the three of them also go hand-in-hand in a lot of defensive aspects as well. Grimaldi ranks eighth on the Preds with 1.2 defensive point shares (DPS); Bonino's 1.7 DPS and Smith's 1.6 DPS rank fifth and sixth. Effectively, this means the backchecking of the "America Line" has been successful enough to generate roughly 4.5 points per game via the forwards themselves or whoever happens to be on the ice with them. DPS is a metric that is naturally dominated by defensemen, so the fact that the America Line is accounting for 15 percent of the entire team's collective DPS is impressive.
Grimaldi's defensive game has also benefited Preds' goaltenders this year; among skaters who've played more than 20 games, his 90.9 on-ice save percentage ranks fourth on the team. His linemate, Smith, leads the team in this metric with a 92.1 oiSV%.
GENERAL EFFECTIVENESS AND TEAM INFLUENCE
After drifting aimlessly through Florida and Colorado, Grimaldi has finally found his terra firma in Nashville. The Preds reportedly told Grimaldi that "he could buy a house in Nashville" as early as January of 2019. When he signed the extension that would keep him in town through the 2021-22 season this February, David Poile said, "You talk about someone earning the contract...".
If you watch Preds games regularly, you know how hard Grimaldi hustles not just in scenarios where he has a scoring chance, but even when he's chasing down an iced puck. For a Preds team that has seemed utterly lackadaisical for most of the 2019-20 season, Grimaldi's presence provides a markedly different viewing experience for fans. Though his performance wouldn't suggest it, Grimaldi is actually tied with former Calgary forward Theo Fleury for the title of fifth-shortest player in NHL history.
Though Grimaldi never played any amateur hockey with his current Preds teammates, he is a product of the ever-stout University of North Dakota's hockey program, which has churned out players like of Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Brock Boeser, and legendary goalie Ed Belfour.