Florida Panthers

This Florida Panthers player might be consider the steal of the year. Here is why

The Boston Bruins’ march to the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals featured point-per-game players such as Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron.

But new Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who has won three Stanley Cup titles, saw something a lot less obvious when watching the Bruins. He saw 5-10, 205-pound Noel Acciari, who led a fourth line that often shut down big-time scorers.

“The one thing you noticed about the Bruins was the line [Acciari] played on,” Quenneville said. “He has that grit factor, killing penalties and winning face-offs. He has ingredients our team needs.”

That’s why Acciari, 27, is now a member of the Panthers, signing in July as a free agent after the Bruins came within one win of knocking off the St. Louis Blues in the Finals.

“Being one [win] away from the Stanley Cup [title and losing] is disappointing,” Acciari said. “But it puts a fire in you, and you want to get back out there.

“I’m excited to see where [the Panthers] are headed.”

Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who signed Acciari to a three-year, $5 million contract, expects this deal to pay off. Acciari could be Florida’s most underrated addition this fall.

“The physicality and the goals-against were the biggest concerns we had with our team, and I think we did a really good job in addressing those needs,” Tallon said. “Acciari is going to make people accountable. He’s versatile, wins face-offs and will take pressure off of [Aleksander Barkov on draws]. He gives our fourth line more spirit and passion.”

Acciari has a knack for playing on winning teams. He went undrafted in 2015 despite helping Providence College win the only national title in school history. Providence rallied for a 4-3 win over Boston University, which was led by forward Jack Eichel (the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft) and coached by David Quinn (who now directs the New York Rangers).

After winning the national title, Acciari signed with the Bruins and served an apprenticeship in the American Hockey League before making his NHL debut in 2016.

Acciari produced just six goals and eight assists this past season, but his contribution was much bigger than that, according to writer Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe.

Dupont praised Acciari as a “forechecking menace and a tone-setter”, questioning why the Bruins ever let him go.

Noting that Acciari played much of Boston’s two-month playoff run with a broken sternum, Dupont said the ex-Bruin’s “pain threshold is higher than the national debt.”

Added Dupont: “The Bruins would’ve been better positioned for another 100-point season had they kept Acciari on the payroll. They will miss him – not for his offense, which was meager, but for his presence.”

Dupont mentioned opposing defensemen “scurrying in fear of being pasted to the wall” by Acciari.

THIS AND THAT

The Panthers, who started their exhibition season by dropping a doubleheader at the Nashville Predators on Monday, have cut their roster from 61 to 51 and now 41.

The most noteworthy cut on Tuesday was 20-year-old center Aleksi Heponiemi, a dynamic playmaker who is expected to make the team next season.

By next week, the Panthers should be down to about 30 players before cutting to no more than 23 by the time the season opens on Oct. 3 at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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