Zac Rinaldo’s World
By Dustin Leed
It’s not often that you see the words skill, calm and composed in the same sentence with Zac Rinaldo.
But you may be surprised at the Zac Rinaldo you see at this year’s Flyers training camp.
He’s still crazy, he’s still an entertainer, he’s still as tough as they come and the calm and composed part could still use some work, but through this offseason and at camp, he may be trying to show a different side.
“Maybe show off my skills a little more (this year) because I haven’t really been doing that at all,” Rinaldo said earlier this summer at Developmental Camp. “They’re there; I just really haven’t brought them out.”
After making his NHL debut last season in the playoffs for the Philadelphia Flyers, Rinaldo will try to earn a roster spot on the Flyers roster this season at training camp.
The 21-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native is coming off his first professional season where he was suspended more times (4) than he scored goals (3) and piled up 331 penalty minutes in 60 for the Adirondack Phantoms.
Despite those numbers, making the Flyers roster is a real possibility for Rinaldo.
“Zac (Rinaldo) can be a real effect player for the Flyers, said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. “I think he proved that last year he’s capable of being physical, skating, agitating a little bit and bringing that presence on the ice.”
“Certainly those types of players can play in the National Hockey League, but the fact that he can skate and play the game as well is important,” Laviolette added.
Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor has seen his fair share of players and echoed the words of the Flyers coach: “One thing about Zac is he can play the game more than people give him credit for. I think if people take a step back and actually see him play. He can do that, which tells you about the kid.”
It’s evident that players like Steve Downie can be a factor in this new NHL. Does Rinaldo have the offensive upside that Downie does? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective NHL player in a certain role with some work.
There are times when certain types of players get ‘stuck’ in certain roles and have a mindset that they can’t contribute in other aspects, something Rinaldo admits.
“(The) Flyers have always told me I’m better than I think I am, sometimes I’m one dimensional, but they say I’m better than I think I am,” Rinaldo stated. “So if you just apply yourself to the skills that you have and work on them, then they’re always going to be there, so that’s what I’ve been working on all summer.”
Even if Rinaldo is sent back to the AHL to start the season, which could be the case, he could benefit from seeing more minutes and makes his point that it’s not all about fisticuffs.
“It sucks, it really sucks (when people view you as only a fighter), every one busts my balls all the time,” Rinaldo said. “Put me on the first or second line for a couple games you’ll see a different player.”
If Rinaldo wants that shot at the first or second line wherever he is playing, one thing Rinaldo must learn is when to stir it up and be physical and when not to.
“There are times at the NHL level that you can get on people and be physical but there times when things aren’t going on, you have to be able to play and be on the ice and not hurt the team,” said Pyror.
“Sometimes you can get away with it at junior but every level you get up, it gets harder and harder. At camp he’s show he can play the game.”
Despite questions about his game, if Rinaldo plans to crack the Flyers roster in camp he’s going to have to focus on the little things and earn the coaching staff’s trust, like being in the right position, knowing when to turn on/off the switch and being responsible in his own end – all of which aren’t always an easy task for a player with one year of professional experience under his belt.
“It’s all part of the learning curve. He’s starting to figure it out,” said Pryor.
“He’s got that element that’s hard to find,” he added. “I think down the road here he’s going to surprise some people because he can play too, which is a bonus because he’s got a lot of energy in his game and he can play. So those are two pretty good things to have on your side.”
As Rinaldo tries to win a roster spot and continues to learn, the skill may be an added bonus to Rinaldo’s game, but don’t expect that skill to replace the physicality and toughness.
“I’m just going to hope for the best and see what happens,” Rinaldo said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing through all my years of playing hockey, I’m not going to stop.”
“I’m not going to back down; I’m not one to back down at all.”