In the span of three seasons, Nashville Predators forward Rocco Grimaldi has gone from the Energizer bunny of the team’s bottom six to a seldom-used forward who’s seemingly found himself in a Kyle Turris-like doghouse with Predators head coach John Hynes.
Grimaldi’s current role is that of the 13th forward, the player who essentially sits and bides his time while waiting for another to get injured.
Given Grimaldi’s offensive contributions the past two seasons — he’s scored 20 goals and 44 points over 106 games in two COVID-shortened seasons — it’s a bit puzzling that the Predators haven’t at least tried to find a regular role for the 28-year-old.
“This is not a good situation for Rocco or the Predators,” GM David Poile told 102.5-FM on Tuesday. “[There’s] things I love about my job, well this is one that we’re dealing with … you have to suspect he’s not happy. He [believes he] deserves to play over this player or that player or what have you. We deal with that all the time, but he’s been here for a couple of years, we know he can play — I know he can play — but he didn’t play too much at the end of last year and to this point we only have one extra forward.”
The last time a Predators player was unhappy, Viktor Arvidsson was promptly shipped to Los Angeles for two draft picks. It was only after he joined his new team that Arvidsson disclosed that he, in fact, was not happy with his role on the team or how Hynes and his staff were using him.
That sounds familiar.
Grimaldi has suited up for just two of Nashville’s first seven games. His 10:23 average ice time is the lowest on the team and his personal low since the 2018 season — his first in Nashville. He also had zero power play time in both games.
Grimaldi is also one of just two Predators forwards — the other being Cody Glass — to not have at least one point this season.
So, why has he fallen out of favor so quickly?
“[I want to see] the play without the puck, the responsibility of making sure that when we don’t have the puck that the attention to detail needs to be there when you’re called upon to defend,” Hynes said during the preseason. “Whether that’s coming into defensive-zone coverage, rush defense, those are situations where you have to have attention to detail and structure because that’s what it is. Rocco’s had a good camp and worked hard.”
It’s puzzling to think that a player who tied for the fourth-most goals on the Predators last season is having a difficult time making it into the everyday lineup. But at 5-foot-6 and 180 pounds, Grimaldi simply may not be cut out for the Predators’ new rock’em-sock’em-robots style of play.
But his speed can still be an asset, as can his ability to manufacture goals out of broken plays. While it’s not clear if Grimaldi will be a factor in the Predators’ long-term plans beyond this season, it’s clear the coaching staff wants to challenge him while he’s here.
“When he gets his next chance, he’s got to make something happen to give him a chance to stay in the lineup,” Poile added. “It’s probably as simple as that. It’s not a perfect situation. You’re always dealing with this balance. … He’ll get his chance, but obviously, just hoping something happens like that four-goal night against Detroit [last season].”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_