One of the brightest spots in the Florida Panthers’ season has been the development of free agent Noel Acciari as a legitimate power forward, but is it something they can continue to rely on, or just a one-season wonder type run?
The top goal-scorers for the Florida Panthers seemed pretty predictable if you looked at the top two. Evgenii Dadonov’s 19 and Jonathan Huberdeau’s 18 seemed pretty predictable, but then Noel Acciari with 17 goals wasn’t entirely something a lot of people predicted.
Acciari’s previous career-high in goals for a single season was 10 goals across 54 games. He had just 18 goals across 180 games for the Boston Bruins and now stands just one goal away from tying that mark with the Panthers. With Florida, however, Acciari has played just 42 games.
Acciari started the season well in October, picking up four goals on the fourth line that started the season unbelievably well. His November month saw him cool off, failing to record a point in seven out of ten games that month, getting just one goal in a forgettable 5-2 loss against the Buffalo Sabres.
Starting December going six straight games without a point, head coach Joel Quenneville rolled the dice, promoting Acciari to the right-wing spot on the second line alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck.
Being frank, Acciari had never played minutes above the fourth line ever. To be played above someone like Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov, who were both temporarily demoted to the third line, seemed like a change that wouldn’t last very long.
Since then, Acciari has been one of the most dependable players for the Panthers. Acciari’s 12 goals across his last 13 games have turned the team around, providing some important grit amongst the top six.
Acciari has already fulfilled his role for the season. He could go the remaining 37 games scoreless this season and still be labeled successful signing by Dale Tallon. Of course, Acciari isn’t the kind of player to want to “settle” for 17 goals, but the real question is whether he can keep scoring at this rate, or even close to this goal-per-game ratio, as the Panthers enter hockey down the stretch.
Looking at a lot of his goals, they aren’t entirely complex or breathtaking goals like Connor McDavid would score. The 28-year-old’s style of play is pretty simple: get to the net and take out the trash. Acciari’s physical frame mixed with his great awareness leads to a lot of his goals.
For reference, look at his two goals versus Vancouver. Both had Acciari finding open space in the slot, creating room for himself to shoot, and letting his teammates get him the puck. This isn’t the kind of creativity that most people would refer to in hockey, but it needs to be looked at more intently by a lot of people.
Acciari may not be able to create his own chances like Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, create chances for his teammates like New York’s Mathew Barzal, or create separation with silk-like hands or speed like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, but would you guess who has more goals?
So, that just leaves the question of whether Acciari’s pace can remain consistent. There is no more “expectation” for him anymore in my eyes, no matter what he does in front of goal, the season has been impressive. For Acciari, I don’t think it’s improbable for him to finish the season with north of 25 goals with the way he plays. Acciari can allow players like Brett Connolly or Vincent Trocheck to create chances for him, and he can convert these chances.
Acciari’s next four games going into the All-Star break are all opponents he can bag goals against, as the Panthers take on Los Angeles, Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago, all near the bottom of the league.