Noel Acciari is enjoying his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Steven Ellis8 months ago
Chicken: check. Pasta: check. Plenty of fluids? Absolutely.
Oreos? Wait, what?
That’s Noel Acciari for you. Nicknamed “Cookie” during his time in Florida, he has embraced it, and so have fans. So, if you work in marketing for a cookie company, call Acciari. He’s ready for that endorsement (cookie) dough.
Acciari was all smiles ahead of Monday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, his 11th game with the club. The depth forward is coming off of a two-goal effort on Saturday against Edmonton, including the ice-breaker early on. His chemistry with Zach Aston-Reese and David Kampf has been evident right away, and while coach Sheldon Keefe is still trying to figure out the long-term lineup situation, Acciari’s role has been undeniable early on.
“He’s great,” Auston Matthews said this week. “All of us really love Cookie ever since he got here. He’s really blended with the team nicely. A guy that plays so hard every night. Doesn’t matter what the situation is, he just gives it his all.”
The Leafs acquired Acciari as part of the Ryan O’Reilly deal last month. He had 10 goals and 18 points in a bottom-six role with St. Louis this year, but he did have 20 goals in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. He clearly knows how to score, even if that’s not really his role. Keefe likes Acciari for his defensive play, and anything else is just gravy.
“Growing up, I tried to be a skill guy but obviously that didn’t work out as much,” Acciari said with a smile. “Each level that I played, you learn something different. When you’re younger, you might be the best guy on your team. But when you get to this level, every guy is the best guy on their team at different levels. At every level, I’ve added something to my game. Whether it’s hitting or just being defensive and reliable… just tried to find my way into the league.”
Courtesy of JFresh Hockey
His work ethic is something the Leafs appreciate.
“I thought Noel Acciari was unbelievable in all regards,” Keefe said Saturday. seemingly unprompted. “He scored and defended, physical, generated scoring chances. He was excellent.”
Acciari’s swiss-army knife style has made him a fan favorite early on, with some even bringing “Cookie” signs down to the ice for pre-game warmups. So when he scored twice in his home debut, he said it was an unbelievable feeling in a city that’s chasing a Stanley Cup – something Acciari came close to doing with Boston in 2019.
It’s still early days, but according to Money Puck, Toronto’s current fourth line has a 57.1 expected-goals-for percentage, which is solid. When Kerfoot played alongside Acciari and ZAR, it was 75 percent. O’Reilly’s injury meant more responsibilities for Kerfoot, but Acciari and Aston-Reese have figured things out for the most part. And on a team that’s so offensively inclined like Toronto, having reliable depth options is key. Acciari’s acquisition may have been seen as a throw-in by some, but Keefe has utilized Acciari well early on.
“You see how these guys score goals, you want to join in on it,” Acciari said. “It might not happen every night, but I want to be able to contribute in different aspects, whether it’s defensive edge or blocking shots. I think our lineup has a mix of everything.”
By all means, Acciari is a rental, just like ROR. Acciari would be an excellent re-sign candidate this summer, and shouldn’t cost more than the $1.25 million he’s currently making. He’s 31 and has plenty still left in the tank. But nothing matters if the Leafs can’t get it done in the playoffs, and Acciari was brought in to give the team some vital depth.
But for now, Acciari is just happy to be in Toronto. The team is playing well. This might be the deepest the group has been in the salary cap era. There’s still a long road to go, but Acciari is quickly becoming a fan favorite.
He’s also looking for good dinner recommendations if you have them.
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