The New England region was all Noel Acciari knew from a hockey standpoint. He played his collegiate hockey with the Providence Friars and spent the first three seasons of his NHL career with the Boston Bruins.
Acciari was a stout role player for the Bruins, providing grit and toughness for a Stanley Cup contender. But when he reached free agency for the first time last summer, he decided to assess his options. While Boston was a proven hockey market where he established a pro career, Acciari signed a three year deal with the Florida Panthers, citing the potential of the market and its roster.
“Boston is a winning city, and when I decided to come to Florida, I saw the potential that Florida had in its team and wanted to be a part of that group,” Acciari said. Right now, I think we are headed in the right direction fighting for a playoff spot. I love the character that comes from our team.”
The Florida Panthers quickly materialized into one of the NHL’s unexpected success stories during the 2019-20 season, sitting on the cusp of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference coming out of the All-Star break. A contributing factor to their recent promise is the ability to get production from unlikely sources, such as Mark Pysyk, who recorded his first career hat trick in early February.
“Every guy stepping up for this team is huge. If it’s not our top-line scoring, then it’s guys like Pysyk getting a hat trick for us in Toronto,” Acciari notes. “It was a big game for us there, and every line is stepping up and contributing, and that’s what you need for a playoff team.”
While the Panthers expected to benefit from Acciari’s winning pedigree and intangibles such as his locker room presence, they were pleasantly surprised to see an unexplored offensive game rounding out his skillset. In his 53 games with the Panthers, Acciari has career highs in goals (19) and points (23), while pacing the team in ice time. His production led to more ice time and stabilized a fourth line in need of a veteran presence.
“I just had a little more confidence this year, and was given a little more freedom to try some things, and play with some different guys,” Acciari explains. “It has worked out for me, and I benefitted from it as a player. I don’t want to take anything for granted, so I want to work hard to stay on every shift and play wherever I’m needed. Everything has been working out really well.”
“He’s one of those guys that you use in every facet of the game,” Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said regarding Acciari. “He brings us a lot of character and a good faceoff guy. Reliable as a defensive player with very good strength in the puck area and a presence around the net. We didn’t expect his production to be like this, but he had an unbelievable stretch. He does a lot of good things. When he’s on the ice, you know things are done the right way.”
When Acciari played for the Bruins, he spent time playing alongside elite talents such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pasternak. Acciari observed the way they approached the game, and it propelled them to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Although the Panthers can only aspire to attain that level of prominence at present, Acciari notices similarities with Florida’s top line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, and Jonathan Huberdeau in the chemistry they built as a unit and the promise they aspire to attain.
“Our top line of Barkov, Dadonov, and Huberdeau resembles the line of the Bergeron/Marchand line in Boston. There are similarities even though every player is different,” Acciari explains. “They each bring something different to the table. I just have been very fortunate with my season thus far and taking advantage of who I’m playing with and every opportunity that I get.”
The Panthers’ signing of Acciari was a relative bargain considering his contract and impact on the ice. Acciari fits seamlessly as a bottom-six forward for the Panthers, enabling the club to use all four lines with high efficiency. Consistent line play breeds lasting trust and chemistry in each member of the unit, where they become capable of contributing in any circumstance. Acciari’s presence helps the Panthers to achieve balance and flexibility throughout their roster.
“Right now, we have four contributing lines that have been good, and we have great goaltending and defense,” Acciari said. “When it’s all going together, we are a tough team to beat. I try to make sure I am in a good spot, and I have been very fortunate with my season thus far.”
“I think the way we play, we try to get all four lines involved,” Quenneville said. “In this league, you need to balance in your lineup. It’s a rigorous season where you have 82 games, and we want balance in our team game where everybody plays the right way.”