Every Tuesday, we update you on some of the top American prospects eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
One of the most intriguing players in this year’s NHL Draft is a young man by the name of Rocco Grimaldi. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? I may have mentioned him once or twice on this blog before.
Grimaldi is intriguing mainly because he appears to have the makings of an offensive dynamo, but concerns about his size (currently listed at 5’6″, 161) have dogged him his whole life. Despite the small stature, Grimaldi has produced where ever he’s been. He’s been playing against older kids since he started playing the game. But can he continue that in the NHL someday?
The diminutive forward has been an offensive leader at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program over the last two years. Last season, he played with the U.S. National Under-17 Team before receiving a February call-up to a stacked Under-18 squad full of future first-rounders.
This year, Grimaldi leads the Team USA in every offensive category with 22 goals, 20 assists, 44 points, nine power-play markers, two short-handed goals and three game-winners. He accounts for nearly 16% of his team’s offensive output.
Grimaldi and his U.S. National Under-18 Team will be headed to the Czech Republic for the 2011 Under-18 Five Nations Cup. The tournament runs from Feb. 7-13 and is usually a must see for NHL foreign scouts. The U18s also will look to defend their gold medal come April, when they head to Germany for the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, which serves as the last chance for NTDP and European players to improve their draft stock.
I chatted with Grimaldi Monday night about his Draft hopes, his strengths, getting cut from the U.S. National Junior Team and what he has to say to those who doubt him. You might be surprised by some of his answers.
Grimaldi: I think it’s going pretty good so far. We’ve had our ups and downs this season. Right now we put together a couple of wins against the best two teams in the league (USHL’s Cedar Rapids and Green Bay) and that’s good for us. Hopefully we’ll go into [the 2011 Five Nations Cup] with a lot of momentum and finish the season strong.
USofH: Do you have any expectations about where you think you should go or where you want to go in the Draft?
Grimaldi: Not really, I mean, I pretty much just want to go where ever someone’s going to take me. Obviously I’ll be overlooked by a lot of teams because of size and everything and I’ll just have to deal with that and just prove them wrong in the end. I know the team that picks me sees past that and sees good things for me in the future. So whatever team picks me is the team that I know wants me and that’s the place I want to go.
USofH: What would you say to people that say you’re too small?
Grimaldi: I’d recap what I’ve done from when I started hockey to now. When I was five I was playing with 9-year-olds and I was probably three feet tall. There’s a picture of a kid that’s literally a foot and a half, to two feet bigger than me and I was battling him in front of the net. So I’ve kind of been like that my whole life. Playing two-to-three years up my whole life, and then the two years [with Little Caesar’s] playing a year up and then coming to the NTDP its another few years up. So I’ve been playing against bigger and stronger guys my whole life and I haven’t really changed. I know it’s not going to change, I’m going to have to keep doing it and keep proving people wrong. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far. Everyone’s always thought that I’d fall at the next level or that I’m going to fall, so I just take that as motivation and move on from that and try to put their words back in their mouth.
USofH: Do you have a projection on when you think you might be ready to play in the NHL?
Grimaldi: My dream has always been to play at 18. That’s always been my dream. Between the next zero to two years is what I want. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but that’s my goal. The quicker the better for me and I want to get there as fast as I can.
USofH: How did you feel after the World Junior camp? Was there anything you took out of it? If so, what?
Grimaldi: Not being picked really motivated me for the rest of the year. Just work harder and become a better player, I guess. Obviously, you can take learning experiences for next year, but I didn’t think about it like that. I thought about it like I had this goal set for a year or two that I was going to make the team and it was definitely a heartbreaker for me. A couple of quotes I heard, was “Burn the bad times that come into your life as fuel for your journey,” or something like that, and I kind of took that as motivation. I write it on the back of my sticks, “World Juniors”. I write it on my workout paper so every time I look at that I use it as motivation to put a bad taste in my mouth and go out there and prove people wrong. It’s definitely something I look to for motivation.
USofH: What would you say is your biggest strength on the ice?
Grimaldi: It would either be my speed or my smarts. I can be fast from blue line to blue line or goal line to goal line or get speed from the dot to the hash marks. That’s very important. I think I’m a pretty smart player offensively and defensively and knowing where guys are and looking the other way and seeing the guys behind you and seeing the puck. I believe those are two pretty strong attributes that I have.
Grimaldi: A few different reasons. First, I had a chance to visit all three of the schools (Denver, Notre Dame and North Dakota) this summer, and the place I felt I’d be most comfortable for a year or two or however many years I’d be there, that was the place I felt best about. Then obviously the coaches were great to me and I really respected what they were doing. They run their team like an NHL team and not just a college hockey team and that’s what I really liked; how pro they are over there. That’s what I want; a pro atmosphere. I liked how they have varying personalities. They can be serious times and have fun. All three of them have different personalities, which is good to have, it’s important. Obviously the facilities, too. The workout facilities are unbelievable. I’ll definitely use those to the best of my abilities.
USofH: You had your pick of where you could play, so why did you choose the National Team Development Program for your junior-aged years and how has it helped you?
Grimaldi: I knew that being able to come here, I’d have more time to work out and work with Darryl (Nelson, strength and conditioning coach) and Carrie (Keil, skating coach) and work out to get stronger and improve my skating. I knew that I was going to have more time to do that here, as opposed to going to another USHL team or in the [OHL] or [WHL] or wherever they wanted me to go, I don’t know. I knew I would have more opportunities to grow off the ice, and get faster and stronger and [the 16- and 17-year-old seasons] are two pretty important years leading up to the draft, where you need to get quicker and stronger, especially for a small guy. You have to be able to play with the bigger guys, and you have to work even that much harder. I think I have gotten a lot faster and stronger these last couple of years and I’ll continue to work these last three months I’ll be here. Darryl and Carrie have helped me a lot along with the coaches and everybody else here.
USofH: Who have you been playing on a line with the most this year?
Grimaldi: It’s changed quite a bit this year. I was playing with (Tyler) Biggs and Boosh (Reid Boucher) and then (Nicolas) Kerdiles and J.T. (Miller). It’s been mostly those guys (with Grimaldi always at center).
USofH: What player do you enjoy watching the most?
Grimaldi: That’s tough, there are a few guys that I really like. The one guy would probably just be Sidney Crosby. Obviously he’s been great every year he’s been in the league, but he’s been continuing to get better. The first few years he was scoring 20-30 goals, but had tons and tons of assists. But he wanted to round out his game scoring more goals and won the Rocket last year, tied with Stamkos. If he wasn’t injured this year, he probably would have won it by 10 goals. He’ll probably catch up when he comes back anyway (laughs). Watching him round out his game, on faceoffs and defensively, him being a leader, his will to win and his desire on the ice is just great to watch.
USofH: If there is one player that influences the way you play most, who might that be?
Grimaldi: I don’t know, I’d probably say Crosby again, but there are a few guys that, just with how they work and how they’re always team first, such as Mike Richards and Ryan Kesler. Just an example, Kesler’s empty-netter against Canada in the round-robin, showed that pure will and desire. I really like watching that and try to feed off of that and incorporate that into my game.
Grimaldi: I hope to continue to do well, especially building off of these two wins against two of the best teams in the league, and build positive momentum for us and take that into the game Thursday and try and get a win there. And take off on Sunday, go over to the Five Nations and try and win that tournament. We didn’t win it last year, but I think we can definitely do it and I thought we could have won it last year. It didn’t happen, so we have to go in there and win gold and continue to build momentum for the USHL. I think we only have a couple of college games left and continue to work out that and try to get one college win, since we don’t have any yet. Get a win there and continue on to [the World Under-18 Championship in April] and keep working at it. It’s going to go by fast so you’ve got to take it one game at a time.
As you can see, Grimaldi has high hopes for his career and won’t let the doubters get him down. He’s a driven young man that has set clear goals for himself that he feels he can reach. Grimaldi will remain as one of the most intriguing players to watch throughout the year.
Coming up next week on the American Prospect Update, we’ll take a look around the country and get you caught up on all the news and notes about the top Americans gearing up for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Also, I want to know what prospects you want to hear from on this site. Let me know in the comments right here on the blog, or check out our new Facebook page and leave your thoughts there.