NHL Draft: This prospect facing no small task

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Rocco Grimaldi just doesn't seem to get it.

He doesn't realize that a guy who is just 5 feet 6, 163 pounds can't possibly expect to play in today's NHL.

Or that a player with strong religious convictions can't hope to fit in with teammates who have more earthly interests.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons Grimaldi, a left winger and California native, doesn't look like he has much of a future in pro hockey.

Grimaldi ignores them all, however. So do the scouts who believe he could be a late first-round choice in the NHL entry draft in St. Paul, Minn., this weekend.

NHL Central Scouting rates Grimaldi the No. 32 prospect among North American forwards and defensemen, and there are individual teams whose staffs like him even more.

Grimaldi caught their attention not only with a well-developed skills set, but a genuine passion for the game.

Consider this evidence of his commitment: During physical testing at the NHL draft combine, Grimaldi tied for the lowest body fat (6.8 percent) among the 100-plus prospects. He also placed fourth in push-ups and, perhaps most impressive, posted the fifth-best vertical leap, 29.8 inches. (Upper St. Clair forward Vincent Trocheck, at 30.3 inches, was one of the few to finish ahead of him.)

"I know that being a smaller guy, I have to work harder than everyone else, because I have that disadvantage," Grimaldi said. "But I'm never going to look on it as something that's going to hinder me. I'm just going to push through it."

And he certainly doesn't view his religious convictions as a hindrance. Indeed, he is planning for a post-hockey career as a clergyman.

"I feel called to be a pastor," he said. "I read the Bible and study it every day, and will continue to do that as I grow older. Hopefully, after a long, successful NHL career, I can pursue a career being a pastor."

He was quick to add, though, that "I feel called to play hockey first, because that's a good ministry for me, as well."

Grimaldi said his faith gets mentioned on the ice occasionally, but he takes it in stride.

"You get poked fun at a little bit, but it's all in good humor," he said. "My buddies call me 'Baby Jesus.' It's all good fun."

Grimaldi interviewed with 26 teams at the combine. All knew about his talent; most focused their questions on how he would get along with teammates who didn't share his religious beliefs.

"They were mostly wondering how I was going to be able to balance hockey with my religion," Grimaldi said. "They wanted to see if I was going to isolate myself from the guys if they were doing something I didn't approve of, but there's nothing I haven't seen and I'm not going to judge anyone for what they do.

"I'm going to live my life the way I do and let them live the way they do, and when we get to the rink, we're brothers."



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