When the news broke last spring that the Boston Bruins had signed free agent center Noel Acciari, few outside of Providence College and Hockey East circles were familiar with the Friars co-captain, but after a strong showing at July’s development camp and this week’s rookie tournament in Buffalo, fans are coming around to the 23-year-old Rhode Islander’s potential.
One thing that jumps out at you when watching Acciari is how smart and opportunistic he is. I go back to the 2010-11 New England prep season when he was captain of Kent School under then-head coach Matt Herr (after starring at Bishop Hendricken High). There were other higher profile skaters on that Lions squad- 2012-eligible Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves and manchild D Mike McKee were seen as pro hockey prospects. Yet, when watching that team, it was Acciari who established himself as a model of consistency and performance. Acciari led the club in scoring that year with 31 goals and 52 points in 27 games (the Lions went 21-6), while helping get his team to the NEPSIHA championship game, losing a nail-biter to Rob O’Gara and the Milton Mustangs.
Here is what Red Line Report had to say about Acciari back in January 2011 (two months before the championship loss):
Captain of the best prep school in the New England region is right in the middle of all the action for his team. Has a somewhat choppy stride, but is an all-out hustle and energy player who always seems to get where he needs to be and wins the races for loose pucks- never shy about being first into the corners.
He took a redshirt freshman season with his hometown Friars in 2011-12, and built his body of work on consecutively improved seasons between 2012-15, posting 11, 22 and 32 points respectively. It isn’t the offense that makes Acciari so valuable- he was an effective prep-level finisher (49 goals in 53 career games), but in the pro ranks, he’ll be more of a grinding, hitting defensive forward who has the moxie and hockey IQ to provide opportunistic secondary scoring for his team.
Providence College teammate and Calgary Flames goalie prospect Jon Gillies considers Acciari one of his closest friends, admiring the Johnston, R.I. native’s tenacity, toughness, leadership and smarts.
“I think the best thing out of all of this is that as good a player as Noel is, he’s an even better person and leader,” Gillies told Scouting Post during the offseason. “Between him and Ross (Mauerman) this year, I don’t think there’s ever been as clear cut choices for two captains as Ross and Noel were. You couldn’t have picked anyone else- you couldn’t have made a case for anyone else- (Acciari) was just incredible. On the ice, off the ice- the example he set and not only was only was he one of the hardest working guys on the ice, but every day he set the right example off the ice by keeping things in control and keeping it in perspective by knowing when the time to talk was and when the time came to lead through actions for us. He’s one of those people that you just can’t say enough good things about.”
Acciari stood out throughout his NCAA career as a player who created space for his teammates by hitting opponents hard, but playing the game cleanly and not taking a lot of liberties or developing a reputation as a cheap-shot artist as other players who are relatively average in size (5-10, 205 pounds) tend to do as a survival instinct.
“It would be easy to discount Acciari because he doesn’t have a big draft pedigree and was lacking in a lot of the tools we look for at the highest level, but that is a mistake,” one NHL scout based in New England told me last year when I asked him about Acciari’s potential to generate big league interest via free agency. “I’ll guarantee you that there are teams on him because he’s so gritty and driven and plays such a mature, disciplined 200-foot game. I like him a lot.”
The Bruins apparently did too, not wasting much time in getting his ink on a two-year entry-level contract, even though Acciari had one more year of NCAA eligibility left. In the end, going out as a champion and getting to sign with his favorite NHL club was too big a temptation to pass up.
Not surprisingly Acciari scored Boston’s first goal of the prospect tourney Sunday night against New Jersey when he took a feed from Colton Hargrove and fired a shot home to cut the Devils lead in half, 2-1 in the second period.
“There weren’t a lot of people happier to see Noel sign with the Bruins than I was,” said Gillies. “I kind of went through that process with him of seeing what his options were, as I had already signed with Calgary so he just had questions that he bounced off me and things like that. But as a local kid- being able to sign with his hometown team after playing for his hometown college and if he starts in the AHL next season he’ll be able to stay in Providence- a place he’s grown up- I don’t think you can dream of any thing better as a kid growing up. You can’t write a better script than that and I’m so happy for him.”
Here’s betting that Bruins fans will be reading along with that script real soon- Acciari is a blue collar player that everyone can get behind.
2014-15 season highlights…not just goals- check out his clean hit to standup the puck carrier at the blue line at 0:35.