The Philadelphia Flyers’ Zac Rinaldo has shown this season how valuable he can be. After Peter Laviolette got fired Rinaldo truly did burst onto the scene, thriving under Craig Berube’s system. Rinaldo’s grit, hard work, and speed all contributed to his success under this new system. These attributes are also all reasons why Craig Berube and Assistant Coach Ian Laperriere love Zac Rinaldo, but most of all he plays with heart and passion whenever he hits the ice.
One of the biggest problems throughout Rinaldo’s career thus far has been taking bad penalties. This season he has cut down on the bad penalties he has taken and has been throwing many clean, hard body checks. However some of the calls against him are because, lets be honest, the refs just don’t like him too much and he has been the victim of more than a few bad calls in his career. If he can stay discipline and stay on the ice, Rinaldo could really blossom into a top 9 forward in the NHL.
Rinaldo has scene some time on the PK unit this season too, which shows how much faith Berube and Lappy have in him. Being one of the fastest players on the team, Rinaldo is a perfect fit on the PK unit. His physicality also helps and brings an edge on the Penalty Kill. However, most of the time he has seen is on a third line basis or if one of the other Penalty Killers ends up in the box. But just the fact that he went from an absolute goon, racking up 232 Penalty Minutes in 66 games in his first season, to someone who plays on the Penalty Kill unit at all – on top of that, he is drawing penalties now. It seems he has really found his niche on this hockey club.
Two years ago – or even last year – Rinaldo would have been the odd-man out of the lineup with Raffl becoming an everyday player and the coach needing to scratch one of the fourth line players. Now, Rinaldo has become a guarantee to play every night (sadly, Rosehill gets scratched) and its a guarantee that Rinaldo will give 100% every time he is out on the ice. Even at the rough start of this season, he was one of the few players I knew every night would be working tirelessly to do his job and try to win the game. This is also the reason why he has easily become a fan favorite in this city.
So when exactly do Rinaldo’s abilities hit their ceiling? Considering his work ethic, his speed, and physicality I think at best he could end up being Wayne Simmonds-esk. He obviously does not poses the skills with the puck Simmonds has (although sometimes Simmonds does not look all to great with the puck). He also does not have the size Simmonds does, but he is physical and annoying to other teams like Simmonds. I’m not saying he is going to score as much as Simmonds does, but if he earned a top 9 forward spot (which probably wont happen for a couple seasons or so) then he has the potential put up 10-15 goals a season with maybe 10-15 assists or so. That is, of course, if he gets top 9 consistent ice time and if he were to be paired with Coots and Lecavalier – as he did last night and showed some bright spots. As for now though, once he ends up back on his normal 4th line duties, he could easily become an even bigger part to this teams success at even strength, and maybe an everyday top 4 PK Forward – like a Gregory Campbell to the Boston Bruins (except at wing, not center). Rinaldo could even possibly be Max Talbot-esk, considering his chirping ability and physicality. However, Talbot is a very clutch player and has always been, but with the opportunity, maybe we will see Rinaldo’s full range of abilities.
I am not saying Rinaldo will surely end up being a 20 goal scorer or anything of that sort. I think he is a key part of this team that goes relatively unnoticed at times and that he always plays with heart whenever he is on the ice. I do think that he is still growing considering this is only his 3rd NHL season and that he is only 23 years old. His overall game has shown potential to grow even more than it has this season and he is an underrated asset to this teams success.
All stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com