Philadelphia Flyers Midterm Top 25 Under 25, No. 14: Zac Rinaldo

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

A Flyers regular makes an early appearance on the Top 25 Under 25 list.

Zac Rinaldo

Birthdate: June 15, 1990 (age 23)
Acquired via: 2008 NHL Draft - Round 6, Pick 178
Current Team/League: Philadelphia Flyers, NHL
Nationality: Canadian (Mississauga, ON)
Size: 5'11'', 180 
Contract: $750,000 per year through 2015

Unlike the rest of the Under 25 players profiled thus far, Zac Rinaldo has carved out a full-time NHL role for himself in the eyes of the Philadelphia Flyers' front office and coaching staff. Since his debut in the 2011 playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres, Rinaldo has found a home on the fourth line as the designated "energy" forward.

His relatively modest place on the list, in other words, is more of a referendum on the value of that role, when not supplemented by other, more measurable skills.

When looking at Zac Rinaldo, let's judge him according to two measures: current on-ice value, and future potential. Rinaldo is currently in his third full NHL season, so the sample should be large enough to make some meaningful observations regarding his play and his ultimate upside.

In the here and now, Rinaldo is a divisive player. Rinaldo fans point to his aggressive, momentum-changing hits and willingness to drop the gloves with anyone, even players far outside of his weight class. They also note that in terms of pure straight-line speed, Rinaldo may be the fastest player on the roster. His critics, on the other hand, point to his propensity to take costly penalties, his lack of offensive instincts and his poor puck possession statistics.

So does Rinaldo provide value in a way that statistics simply cannot measure? Coaches often praise players like Rinaldo for "sparking the team" in games with a big hit or a timely fight. And to Rinaldo's credit, most of his hits seem to come via an aggressive forecheck in the offensive zone rather than a result of chasing the puck in the defensive end.

Rinaldo is also often credited with making the Flyers a tougher team to play against, and there is definitely some truth to that. While it may be easier for opponents to tilt the ice when Rinaldo is out there, surely no player enjoys being the target of one of 36's missile-like hits.

But these skills do not show up in Rinaldo's possession statistics, which are consistently among the worst on the Flyers. Nor do they seem to help on the scoresheet - Rinaldo has yet to score more than nine points in an NHL season.

The real question becomes: how much extra value are you willing to place upon his intangible attributes, and are they important enough to outweigh his statistical limitations?

Interestingly enough, Rinaldo's best season from a stat perspective was his rookie season in 2011-12, when he finished with a Corsi Relative of -4.9% and a Points/60 of 1.106, neither terrible numbers for a fourth liner playing limited minutes with uninspiring linemates. His Corsi For after controlling for zone starts and close situations was a respectable 49.4%, with the caveat that controlling for those factors does serve to cut the sample size almost in half.

Unfortunately, Rinaldo's possession statistics have regressed since then. In 2012-13, his Corsi Relative slipped to -9.3%, and he has posted a -8.9% Corsi Rel so far this season, showing no real signs of improvement in the advanced statistical realm.

Rinaldo did showcase a valuable skill last season in his newfound ability to draw penalties. He clearly became more skilled at playing to the referees, both decreasing the number of undeserved minors that he took but more importantly, allowing him to function in a pest role in addition to his crash-and-bang style. Rinaldo actually finished with a positive minor penalty differential in 2012-13 (+2), which is notable because he still took a great deal of minors on his own. But while he averaged 2.3 penalties taken per 60 minutes, he drew 3.2 penalties every sixty minutes to counteract them.

Certain players, such as Dustin Brown, have been able to sustain their positive penalty differential and provide hidden value to their teams year after year. But Rinaldo has failed to repeat his success this season, and his rate of 1.3 penalties drawn per sixty minutes this year is actually a career low. Combine that with a Penalties Taken/60 of 3.0, and you have a penalties plus/minus of -13 from Rinaldo so far this year.

So evaluating Rinaldo's positive impact on the team depends upon how highly you value his intangibles, because from a statistical standpoint, Rinaldo is simply a below-average fourth liner.

But could he develop into a better player over time? After all, he is only 23 years old, and he has shown flashes of providing measurable value to the team.

It's unlikely that Rinaldo ever becomes a scorer at the NHL level. After all, he was never a point per game player in the OHL (his best season was 30 points in 54 games in 2008-09) and has yet to show anything resembling long-term offensive upside during his time as a professional.

However, he has shown the ability to draw penalties, and if he is able to dial back the aggression a bit in order to cut down on his own minors, there is definitely value in a fourth line pest who can give his scorers additional power play opportunities on a regular basis.

As for the possession statistics, just a jump back to 2011-12 levels would be a huge boost to Rinaldo's value as a player. If you believe that his intangibles have a positive impact on team chemistry and the overall effort level of the team, even a moderately negative Corsi Relative would be acceptable for a fourth liner playing limited minutes if Rinaldo can supplement that by drawing more penalties than he takes.

There is also another wild card that could make Rinaldo a far more valuable player in the future. Ian Laperriere has in many ways taken Rinaldo under his wing since joining Craig Berube's coaching staff, and he seems to believe that Rinaldo has the potential to be a regular penalty killer in the NHL.

Rinaldo received some 4v5 ice time earlier this year, but he struggled in limited minutes. Still, if Laperriere can slowly groom the sometimes-undisciplined forward into even an adequate penalty killer over time, it would do wonders to help win over Rinaldo's detractors.

Unlike the vast majority of this list, Zac Rinaldo does not have an uncertain NHL future. He has already found a spot on the Philadelphia roster and isn't going anywhere any time soon. His development over the next few seasons, however, will determine whether he remains a player who depends upon his intangibles to keep his role, or if those intangibles become only one aspect of an effective professional fourth liner.

How we voted for Zac Rinaldo:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
13 18 10 18 13 12 16 11

Who we voted for at No. 14:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
Eric Wellwood Taylor Leier Jason Akeson Brandon Manning Eric Wellwood Oliver Lauridsen Petr Straka Robert Hagg

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