UND sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi signed a three-year deal with the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, giving up his final two years of college eligibility.
What does that mean for UND next season?
I think it means that UND, once again, isn’t going to blow anyone away with its skill level up front and it will rely on offense by committee, just as it did this season. Look at the lineup of forwards and there really isn’t a potential Hobey guy up there.
(Side note: I see fans comment sometimes asking, ‘When are we going to have a sniper or a goal-scorer? We never do!’ Prior to this season, UND had the leading goal scorer in the WCHA for three consecutive seasons — Danny Kristo, Brock Nelson and Matt Frattin — so those fans have a short memory….)
Next year, there won’t be a guy on the roster who has tallied more than 13 goals in a college season.
I think fans can expect Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan to have bigger point totals as long as they are healthy. Their production was significantly different in the second half of the season when they were healthy (although Parks clearly wasn’t fully healthy because he wouldn’t shake hands with his right hand).
We’ve all seen some of the high-end things that Drake Caggiula can do. As he gets older, he’s starting to become more consistent. He’s a guy that UND will look to continue adding to that consistency.
Nick Schmaltz is a guy who has potential to produce offense right away. I’ve only seen him play two games, but he was more of a setup man in those games, which could come in handy on the power play.
And it will also be very important to keep getting production from the junkyard dogs. Stephane Pattyn and Connor Gaarder came up huge for UND at the end of the season. They may not be the most skilled players, but they are relentless and get everything out of their abilities.
Pattyn and Gaarder became the faces of this year’s team. The team took on their mentality at the end of the season and will need to do that again next season. I also think Pattyn can continue practicing tips in front of the net — he sparked the power play at the end of the season and I think he’ll be at net front again next season.
Back to Grimaldi, UND loses its most explosive and dynamic player. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it a loss UND can overcome? Yes. With or without Grimaldi, UND’s strength next season was going to be on the back end and in goal. That doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is UND’s skill level up front.
I’ve certainly never covered a player like Grimaldi in my time on the beat. He was unique.
He had the ability to create a highlight reel play at any time. Look at the goal he scored in the second period against Wisconsin: He picked off a pass in the neutral zone, used his elite speed to gain separation from the defenseman, then backhanded one home. I don’t know if there’s another guy on the team who could score a goal like that.
If he came in the zone on a one-on-one rush, he would get the crowd out of their seats, because they had no idea what was going to happen next. He could go wide, he could go inside, he could put the puck through the defender, he could pull up and let traffic build in front or he could stop on a dime, let the D go by and shoot.
He could spark his team and the crowd with an energetic shift, and he almost always set the pace at which the team played.
Then, there were the three stats that I’ll never be able to figure out.
Grimaldi scored a power-play goal in each game against Vermont. Then, he had one power-play goal in the last 40 games of the year and none in the final 33. He was in a setup role on the halfwall often, but even so, it’s strange that he became more proficient at scoring shorthanded than on the power play.
It was also strange that, until burying two empty-netters in the regional against Wisconsin, he never had a two-goal game at UND.
The other thing I’ve never seen before is a player produce at the same rate no matter who he had on his line. Grimaldi played with Kristo and Knight for a while last season and put up pretty much the same numbers that he did when he was mixed-and-matched with Pattyn, Bryn Chyzyk and Colten St. Clair.
Add all that up and it tells you why there are so many differing opinions on how he will do in the pros.
The truth is that none of us really know what the next level holds for Grimaldi and we’ll all be following curiously along to see the results. Before hanging up with him on the phone today, I told Grimaldi that we’ll keep in touch as we follow him through the pros.
“I’m in the Fighting Sioux family now,” he said. “I know the people here will always support me and I will support this team forever.”