Call it Rocco’s Modern Camp.
Forward Rocco Grimaldi signed a two-way contract with the Nashville Predators back in June, and given the forward logjam at the NHL level, the signing appeared to be an attempt to bolster the organization’s AHL depth.
Since then, however, the circumstances have changed. Austin Watson’s roster spot has been left vacant for at least 27 games while he serves a suspension stemming from his domestic violence charge from the summer. Now, there is a battle for that roster spot, and the veteran Grimaldi has put himself firmly in the mix for another shot at the NHL level.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” Grimaldi said. “I’m not as nervous as I was the first time around. I know what to expect and I know you’re always being watched, whether it’s in a game, a practice or a workout or whatever it is. You’ve got to be professional each day, you have to come to work each day and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
That effort and professionalism have manifested in some eye-popping stats on a team that has been mostly lackluster in the preseason. According to Natural Stat Trick, Grimaldi leads the team in shots with 11 and scoring chances with 13 this preseason. Those types of numbers allowed him to stick with the NHL team even as four players were waived and sent to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals on Monday.
Grimaldi viewed his chance to stick with the NHL club as affirmation that he’s doing the right things at the right times.
“I don’t know if it was an extra boost,” said. “I try to take it day by day and work as hard as I can, whether that’s in a game or in a practice or whatever it is. I’m still here, so that must mean I’m doing a good job with what I’m doing. I have to keep playing smart and working hard and doing the best that I can and hopefully be rewarded for it.”
He continued to add to his impressive resume on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. In what was otherwise a dismal performance, Grimaldi was all over the ice and demonstrating more of his speed and skill in a significant amount of ice time. In fact, Grimaldi has earned more than 46 minutes of ice time in the preseason, the fourth-highest on the team and second-highest among players still with the team.
That did not go unnoticed by head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I think what you saw tonight, he’s relentless out there,” Laviolette said. “He plays the game fast. He was one of the players that I thought was effective just with his speed. He generated some scoring chances five-on-five with the opportunity and the ice time that he got. He competes hard on the puck, so it’s been more of the same from him.”
Part of that success that Grimaldi has had is due in part to Laviolette himself. Grimaldi is happy playing in his new coach’s system and sees it as a complement to what he likes to do on the ice.
“Well, they play with speed and that’s a big part of my game,” he said. “They’re an up-and-down team, and obviously have the best D in the league I think, so it’s nice having them jump in the rush and be a fourth man in the play and get their feet moving. It’s been a lot of fun these last couple of weeks.”
Overall, Grimaldi hopes that his performance, work ethic and speed have all been enough to convince the coaching staff that he is worthy of an NHL roster spot on opening night. He mainly hopes that they just see him for the player that he is.
“Hopefully, a guy who can bring energy, get pucks to the net and create scoring chances with as much ice time as I’m given,” he said. “I try to make those around me better, I try to be smart with the puck and I want to be reliable defensively as well and play a 200-foot game.”