Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 4/18/12

By David Strehle
NHL Hot Stove Managing Editor

It should have been a good time for rookie Zac Rinaldo to showcase what he could bring to the Flyers with Jody Shelley serving a five-game suspension to open the season.

Rinaldo hits LA's Matt Greene (Photo credit: Ron Cortes / McClatchy-Tribune)

But it has actually been a bit difficult for Rinaldo to prove anything to the coaching staff.

Between teams commiting stick fouls and officiating taking a whistle-happy approach, the early portion of the schedule has featured an inordinate amount of special teams play.  That has meant very limited ice time for the 21-year-old rookie.

Averaging just over five minutes of ice time per contest, Rinaldo has still been able to make an impression.

Rinaldo stated during the preseason that he wouldn’t be fighting the opponent’s heavyweight every night, and he wanted to bring more to the table than just his propensity for fisticuffs.

He picked up his first NHL point when official scorers added a second assist on a spectacular goal by fellow-rookie Harry Zolnierczyk last night in the game’s final minute. 

In the game in which he received the least amount of TOI (1:51), perhaps the most significant impact Rinaldo made in the young season was a devastating open-ice hit on Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. 

At just 5′ 9″ and 165 pounds, the Missisauga, Ontario-native usually gives up much in the way of size in just about any bout he indertakes.

Known for his fighting abilities through his junior and AHL careers, Rinaldo has dropped the mitts twice in racking up 28 penalty minutes in five games. 

When he knocked Doughty out of the game with a shoulder injury Saturday night, Rinaldo was immediately engaged in a fight by Dustin Penner.  Even though the Kings’ winger isn’t known as a fighter, he stands 6′ 4″ and weighs 249 pounds.

Last night in the final moments of the first period, Rinaldo went toe-to-toe with reigning NHL penalty minute champ Zenon Konopka.  Even though at 6′ 0″, and 209 pounds the Senators’ winger is smallish in terms of frequent combatants, he still had three inches and 40 pounds on the Flyers’ rookie.

At 6′ 3″ and 230 pounds, Shelley has made a career as a true heavyweight.  The second-year Flyer has amassed 1,474 PIMs in 596 games, including 127 last season in Philly.

Shelley served the fifth and final game of his suspension for an illegal hit delivered during preseason.

With all the discussion related to the increase in concussions across the League, it stands to reason that the true heavyweight enforcer may become a thing of the past.

While always known as a good presence in the locker room, Shelley has scored just 18 goals in those 596 contests.

Rinaldo has shown flashes of being able to contribute offensively, displaying good hands .  He scored a beautiful goal on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer during the exhibition season.

I’ve said many times that Rinaldo is much more of a Dan Carcillo-type player than an enforcer.  He’ll hit, agitate, fight, and also throw in the occasional goal.

The Philadelphia roster situation has become very complicated, and not in a bad way.  In addition to the existing players, it’s gotten more blurry as to who should stay because of the success that all of the young players have brought in the season’s infancy.

It’s actually a good problem to have for the Flyers brass.  Too many guys are proving that they belong on the team.

Couturier and Zolnierczyk each scored their first NHL goals last night (Photo credit: Flyers Official Twitter account)

Both Rinaldo and Shelley face uncertainty because of the play of rookies Matt Read, Sean Couturier.  Even Zolnierczyk played well in his NHL debut last night in Ottawa, after being called up earlier in the day when it was learned that Andreas Nodl would be out with an injury.

And there is yet another rookie just waiting in Adirondack for the call from Philadelphia.  Winger Brayden Schenn was sent to the Phantoms just prior to the beginning of the season to bypass a $1.4 million bonus clause, and because of a slight shoulder injury in the preseason.

After a stellar summer camp in Philadelphia, Schenn also appeared to have a bit of a lack of confidence as the exhibition season progressed.  This may be why he was not recalled earlier.

Any confidence issues should be rectified already with his play in the AHL.  Through the first four Phantoms games, Schenn has notched four goals and eight points.

When there are so many contributing, where do you find room for everyone?  And where do you find the ice time for everyone that is in the lineup?

Answers to those questions should be forthcoming over the course of the next few weeks.  But for Shelley and Rinaldo, it will  likely be much sooner.

Rinaldo has added a facet to the Flyers that Shelley probably cannot.  Philly’s sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft has much more in the way of speed and offensive potential than Shelley.  Plus he has handled himself well against much bigger, more experienced NHL fighters.

It would seem that Rinaldo deserves more time with the club, but only time will tell as to what happens with the logjam of Philadelphia forwards. 

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle


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