- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2011

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - From Saskatchewan to Stockholm, NHL prospects came to the draft, hoping to hear their names called.

Rocco Grimaldi’s height made him wait until the second day, but the delay couldn’t keep him down.

“I’d heard that I was the wild card of the draft. No one really knew when I was going to go. It depended on if someone wanted to ‘take a risk’ on a small guy,” said Grimaldi, who was selected Saturday with the third pick of the second round, 33rd overall, by the Florida Panthers. “It’s crazy.”

Grimaldi is a center who scored 34 goals in 50 games last season for the U.S. national development team, a dynamic player committed to the University of North Dakota who has had scouts smiling about his offensive skills.

One problem: He is 5-foot-6.

“It’s kind of annoying after a while, but it’s also kind of exciting to sit there not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Grimaldi said. “It keeps you on your toes. I still have to go out and prove people wrong, which I’ve done my whole life and I’m going to continue to do.”

Being small isn’t all bad, of course.

“I like to play low, with good balance and a center of gravity. I think it’s the perfect height for the way I like to skate and be quick,” Grimaldi said. “I think it’s a lot harder on the bigger defensemen who have longer legs and can’t move as quick as a small guy, so I think it fits my game perfectly. A lot of people have underestimated me, so I like that factor.”

Born in Southern California, Grimaldi speaks openly about his Christian beliefs and wants to start a sports-related church some day. He has a favorite Bible verse stitched to one of his shoes that fits his situation well: the story of David and Goliath.

“The verse goes, ‘The Lord looks at the heart, not as man does,’” Grimaldi said.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was plenty excited.

“We’re in the entertainment business, too, and I like watching good players play at the ultimate level,” Tallon said. “He gives it all every shift. He’s got skill, speed, and he’s got tremendous competition.”

Two picks before Grimaldi, the Edmonton Oilers continued their reconstruction project by selecting defenseman David Musil to start the second round. Musil had six goals and 19 assists for Vancouver in the Western Hockey League last season.

“Edmonton is a great organization, and I’m really looking forward to going there,” Musil said, echoing the sentiment of center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick Friday.

Musil’s father, Frantisek, once played for the Oilers.

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