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Zac Rinaldo is selling the same case he made a year ago: He wants to evolve into more than just a pest. He wants to be a complete hockey player. We'll believe it when we see it, man.
We're not at Adirondack Phantoms training camp in Voorhees this Saturday, but if there's one story that's emerging from the halls of the Flyers Skate Zone during Day 1, it's clearly that Flyers pest Zac Rinaldo wants to become more than just Flyers pest Zac Rinaldo.
Hmm, this sounds familiar.
"For me I want to build my confidence and just play hockey while I'm with the Phantoms," Rinaldo said. "I want to keep things simple... I'm going to take [playing in the AHL] as a positive and use it as an opportunity to become a better hockey player because that's what I want to do."
And from 2011, via The Hockey Guys:
"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."
"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."
Rinaldo seems to be spinning the exact same message he did a year ago. He wants to be viewed as more than a fighter. That he has actual hockey skill that can benefit the Philadelphia Flyers.
To their credit, the Flyers seem supportive of Rinaldo's desire to turn himself into a complete hockey player, and unlike years prior, he'll likely get more of an opportunity to improve with the Phantoms at the start of this AHL season. He'll have the chance to play a much larger role than perhaps he ever has at a high-level of competition -- certainly at a professional level.
Rinaldo seems to be setting his focus on a penalty killing role, which in a weird way makes sense if he can possibly keep himself under control. The penalty kill is a grind and Rinaldo has the attributes of a grinder. He can skate, too, which certainly helps his case.
But this all still comes down to one thing: Can Rinaldo keep himself under control? It's the exact same question that faced him a year ago, and our answer is still exactly the same: We'll believe it when we see it.
Rinaldo was the most-penalized player in the Ontario Hockey League in both 2008-09 and 2009-10, his last two Major Junior seasons. In his first pro season with the Phantoms in 2010-11, he had 331 penalty minutes in 60 games -- over five minutes a game. He finished just three minutes behind Albany's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, but PLL played four extra games than Zac.
With the Flyers a year ago? Here's CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio today, summarzing Rinaldo's 2011-12:
Rinaldo, who came to the Flyers as a ticking time bomb two seasons ago, had made enormous strides to harness his on-ice anger into doing positive things. Seldom did he fly off the handle last season.
Not exactly. Rinaldo may not have been as reckless as he once was, but that's not exactly a tough feat considering his past. In 2011-12, Rinaldo was suspended once for a hit against the Red Wings and was fined on two other occasions, both after the same February game against New Jersey.
Not the laundry list of infractions he had seen in years past, sure. But while he may not have needed attention from Brendan Shanahan all that often (at least comparatively) last season, Rinaldo still finished the season with 232 penalty minutes. Again, much like 10/11 in the AHL, the only reason he didn't finish in the league lead was because Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets played 11 extra games and finished three minutes ahead of him.
A player at or near the top of the league's PIM leaders is not an under control hockey player, nor is he a player making "enormous strides" to get himself under control. It doesn't matter which way you slice it.
Rinaldo can say he wants to be a complete hockey player. Peter Laviolette and Terry Murray can say how they believe he has the ability to become a complete hockey player. But as long as he's in the running to be the most penalized player in the entire league -- regardless of what league that is -- it's really hard to buy what Zac Rinaldo is selling. I'll believe it when I see it.