In grading any player’s season, it is crucial that there is an understanding of how we are evaluating him. Similar to how I evaluated Dante Fabbro and Mikael Granlund, there are five pieces of critera that will be used to determine Rocco Grimaldi’s grade: development, decision making, footwork, positioning, and offense.
In grading his development, the main consideration is going to be how far Grimaldi has come over the past season. Arriving in camp as a nobody, Grimaldi finished the season with the Predators. How well did he transition to a full-time role? How close was he to meeting what expectations were set forth for him?
For decision making, the focus is going to be on how well Grimaldi can see the ice. Does he make the right passes? Does he abandon the offensive zone at the right moment or pinch too hard? Is Grimaldi in the correct position in the defensive zone?
Positioning relates a little to both decision making and offense, but primarily we are looking at what spots on the ice Grimaldi sees and maybe fails to see. Is he taking advantage of open ice? Is he failing to mark his defenders?
Footwork is an easy and much more technical element to grade, partially because it manifests itself so clearly in a player’s overall game. Proper use of edges and a quick first three strides are going to directly impact a player’s speed and acceleration.
Finally, there is offense. Rather than just creating a “shooting” category that would unfairly punish a defender’s grade, this category is going to evaluate Rocco Grimaldi’s offensive instincts. Does he jump into play at the right moments? How helpful is he when joining the rush?
The 26-year-old Anaheim native Grimaldi entered the season with absolutely no expectations. The previous year, Grimaldi played only six games in the NHL, featuring for the Colorado Avalanche. At that time, Grimaldi’s development should have been over. His ceiling was a player who, if all hell broke loose and injuries ravaged a lineup, would then get a chance to play.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to the Nashville Predators, and Grimaldi made the most of his opportunity. Grimaldi played well enough to stay on the Predators’ roster for most of the season, finishing with 53 games in the regular season and five in the playoffs.
Part of why Grimaldi stayed with the Predators was how well he fit into the Predators’ system. He quickly became a fan favorite for his hustle and work ethic in spite of his 5’6” frame. Relentless on the puck, Grimaldi made it his mission to get to corners before his opponents.
Despite how beloved he was, he still only posted 13 points, five goals and eight assists, in his 53 games. That placed him at 15th on the team in points, worse than Austin Watson and Ryan Hartman. He contributed the absolute bare minimum to have a roster spot and, once the trade deadline brought in new additions, Grimaldi was often relegated to the press box.
Let’s be very honest: Grimaldi was a fringe NHL player to start the season, and became a replaceable NHL player. That is improvement. Is it a significant amount of improvement? Not really.
Looking over Grimaldi’s games with the Predators, it is clear that he is a one-dimensional player and decision maker. Just as everyone knows a Disney movie ends happily when the film begins, Grimaldi was not exactly coy about his intentions on the ice. If he had the puck, it was being shot. If he had it in the neutral zone, he was dumping it and trying to win a footrace. If he was backchecking, he would leave the open man and try and play the puck carrier.
While people have likened Grimaldi to Viktor Arvidsson, mostly due to size and hustle, Arvidsson’s game is unfathomably more well-rounded than Grimaldi’s game. Arvidsson is seeing the whole ice when he jumps in on the rush or backcheck. He also rarely gets caught out of position despite his intent to barrel right through the offensive zone.
It seems when Grimaldi attacks the opponent’s zone, he has horse racing blinders on his helmet. He’ll often get caught too deep and then have to try and compensate for his mistake by hustling back. While Grimaldi’s hustle is given credit when he’s able to make up the lost ground, the fact he was out of position in the first place is never addressed. He needs to be more patient when chasing opponents and not just dive head-first after them.
Playing off of what was just discussed, Grimaldi is prone to overcommitting on plays and chasing opponents. These poor decisions often lead him into bad positions on the ice, particularly in the offensive and neutral zones.
However, in the defensive zone, Grimaldi plays excellent hockey. Once the rush is over and play settles down, Grimaldi has been incredibly effective at blocking shots and forcing turnovers. The turnovers of course come from that relentless hounding of the puck carriers.
Unlike in the offensive zone, Grimaldi’s chasing is incredibly effective in the defensive zone because opponents have only one zone of ice to work with. In the Predators’ offensive zone, an opponent has the whole neutral zone and potentially more for a quick stretch pass or fast breakout. Those are not options once the opponent is in the Predators’ defensive zone. There’s simply less ice to work with. Because of that, Grimaldi is able to really take advantage of his speed and instincts to strip the puck from attackers.
Grimaldi’s known for his speed and has a really nice stride. However, he could bear to extend his legs further because he’s shortening his stride and making himself work harder to cover the same distance. Considering how short his stride already is because of his size, Grimaldi needs to get as much extension in his stride as possible.
Grimaldi’s edge work is average while his transitions leave something to be desired. He’s never excelled at quick turns, instead maintaining speed but making sweeping, wide turns. Moreover, he does a relatively poor job at transitioning between forwards and backwards, in addition to changing direction. He skates hard and fast, but only does so well when traveling in one direction.
As we talked about earlier, Rocco Grimaldi had a pretty poor performance on the offensive side of the puck this season. He does not see the ice well and really struggles in front of the opposing net.
Finishing 15th on the Predators in scoring and being replaced in the starting roster after the trade deadline should tell you all you need to know: Grimaldi and his lack of offense is completely replaceable. He fails to make an impact and does not contribute enough to secure a roster spot. With bottom lines becoming more offensive across the league, Grimaldi fails to measure up when he has the puck.
If Grimaldi is going to improve his offense, he needs two things to happen. First, he needs more muscle mass, because right now he is useless right in the slot. Second, his vision must improve. Grimaldi fails to get the puck into the dangerous areas of the ice. Because of that poor vision, he’s easy to defend because he’s never creating high-danger chances.
Overall Grade: C+
This may be a controversial grade, but realistically Rocco Grimaldi was not productive on the offensive side of the puck. His decision making needs severe improvement and it’s not too late to correct his stride. Grimaldi played hard, hustle hockey, which is certainly endearing. However, just being a good guy who tries hard doesn’t make someone immune to their flaws. Grimaldi’s hockey game has more than a few. He’s a nice fit in the Predators’ system and slots in fine on the fourth line and, after spending most of his days in the AHL, that is just about his ceiling.