Two or three more inches and Rocco Grimaldi would have been an NHL goal-scorer Tuesday night, on the one-year anniversary from the last time he could call himself one.
On April 4, 2016, Grimaldi scored two goals for the Florida Panthers against Toronto, but, counting the ugly get-ups of the Panthers, he has worn three pro hockey uniforms since. In between, the 24-year-old native of Anaheim, Calif., has scored plenty of goals, but all at the AHL level.
On Monday, Grimaldi was called up from AHL San Antonio Rampage and thrust into the Colorado Avalanche lineup against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks. It almost turned out to be a feel-good story, but Grimaldi will probably have his sleep haunted by the circumstances of a second-period sequence in which he did everything but score.
Grimaldi, the AHL's third-leading goal scorer (29) at the time of his promotion, came down the right side and had Chicago goalie Scott Darling overly committed when he put a shot that Darling got some equipment on, but looked like it would continue over the goal line. Instead, the puck squibbed a little too much horizontally, right on the line, and Darling reached back to grab it.
"I tried to shoot it 5-hole, but he closed it and the rebound was still there. It might have hit the post a little bit there too and he's a pretty big guy. I thought I could swipe it in still, but he got to it first," Grimaldi said.
Those are the kinds of chances Grimaldi needs to go in for him because the kind of opportunity he has now with the Avs might be fleeting. Assuming he stays on the roster the rest of the way, Grimaldi has three more games to make an impression on coach Jared Bednar before the shop closes until September.
Grimaldi, a second-round draft choice of Florida (33rd overall) in 2011 after a starry career at North Dakota, has toiled mostly in the minors since, though he did play 27 games for the Panthers, scoring four goals and six points. He was called up to the Avs for one game in December, but played only 8:09 in a loss against Dallas. He went back to San Antonio and had led the Rampage in scoring most of the season, often playing on the same line with J.T. Compher, who was recalled by the Avs last month. Grimaldi played on a line mostly with Tyson Jost and Gabe Landeskog.
In 10:29 of ice time, Grimaldi had no points and was a minus-2, but he had three shots on net and was dangerous with the puck on a few occasions.
Grimaldi stands at 5-foot-6, 190 pounds. He has always faced doubters because of his size and defensive abilities, but he's always overcome them to get to hockey's highest level. To become a regular NHLer, though? Grimaldi knows he needs to produce in a tight time frame, before coaches start to want to label him as a career minor-leaguer. Grimaldi is betting on himself, however, over the question of whether he can stick in the NHL or not.
"I know it's just a matter of time. It's about getting a chance and doing good with that chance," Grimaldi said. "I thought our line had a lot of good chances, but it just didn't go in for us. We've got to just keep playing like that, and hopefully the next game it goes in."
The good news for Grimaldi, unlike his last time in Denver: It looks like he'll get that next game to make another impression.