When looking at Zac Rinaldo and Tom Sestito, you don't really think the same thing. One is massive, the other is relatively tiny. But the reality is that, despite the difference in size, both players really serve the same function in the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
They're both asked to drop the gloves on occasion, play a physical game and bring with them a small bit of hockey ability. Neither is exactly an enforcer nor a pest nor an "energy guy" in the traditional sense of the terms -- instead a strange mix of the three -- and these similarities are why the two were so closely linked during training camp this past year.
Our main issue with Rinaldo during camp was his reputation. He had more suspensions than goals in the American Hockey League a year ago, and he seemed unable to control himself on the ice, like an even crazier mold of another former member of the Flyers. That's something that's hard to shake.
Meanwhile, Sestito didn't hold that same reputation. He seemed to have the ability to control himself on the ice (as much as a guy who plays such a physical game can, of course), while he could still easily replace Jody Shelley as a big guy who can contribute on the fourth line and provide some physicality and some energy.
In short, both players seemed to be able to supply the same thing, but Rinaldo came with the extra risk of hurting his team with silly penalties. Sestito, to that point, had been able to control that, and when you combine that with Rinaldo's ability to be sent down without clearing waivers, it seemed like Sestito had the upper hand on Rinaldo when it came to making the team in camp.
It all changed direction on September 27, when Sestito was suspended two regular season games for a ridiculously dumb hit on Andre Deveaux of the New York Rangers. It was a hit that sealed his fate, and it was a hit that basically locked down a spot for Rinaldo on the Flyers' roster out of camp.
Since then, the two players have played drastically different hockey. Rinaldo has been impressive with the Flyers, especially in the controlling-his-emotions department, while Sestito, who we had a chance to watch play two games this weekend with the Adirondack Phantoms, has continued down the path he set for himself in the preseason.
We've all seen what Rinaldo has done for the Flyers. Sure, he leads the team in penalties taken per 60 minutes, and as we've seen, a lot of those penalties have been the cause of his reputation and the fact that he's such an explosive checker. His hits look bad, even when legal, and that's part of the problem. But at the same time, he also leads the team in penalties drawn per 60 minutes, and he's drawing more penalties per game than he's taking.
That would be a net gain for the team, and that's what Rinaldo is here to do. He's been a positive player for the Flyers so far this season, and he seems to have reigned in the crazy. He's playing mostly smart hockey.
Meanwhile, the same cannot be said for Sestito's deteriorating game in Glens Falls. We only had a chance to witness two games, so keep that in mind, but in our estimation, he looks completely disinterested during the course of the game unless there's A) a scoring chance about to develop, B) a chance to deliver a big hit or C) a scrum is breaking out somewhere on the ice.
He seems to coast otherwise, especially when back-checking, and that's an assessment several of us were in agreement with during the trip over the weekend.
To his credit, we did notice him trying to draw an instigator penalty on a Toronto Marlies player in the first period on Saturday night, but for the most part, the truth is overwhelmingly negative when it comes to Sestito's play. He's taking a lot of dumb penalties -- 13 total penalty minutes in the two games this weekend, none of which were necessarily warranted -- and is doing exactly what Rinaldo did so often a year ago: hurt the Phantoms more than he's helping.
We didn't have a chance to speak with Sestito while we were in Glens Falls, but from what we've been able to learn, it's safe to say he's just a miserable guy at the AHL level. It's understandable, and can even be a good thing if it's used as a motivating factor, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.
Just a few months ago, Zac Rinaldo was the one who had to prove himself against the reputation he'd built for himself. Now, Tom Sestito is working on building a very similar type of reputation. The season is still young, but so far, he's not exactly doing himself any favors.