DALLAS - The odds, Zac Rinaldo knows, were stacked against him.
But his work ethic, dedication to his craft, and belief he could carve out a role for himself has led him here: set to skate in his 500th professional game.
"I'm not supposed to be here right now, no I'm not," he said following Sunday's pre-game skate at the American Airlines Center.
"A sixth-round guy, supposed to be a tough guy ... not too many players like myself who were drafted in the sixth round, for their toughness, stick around this long. Especially in this day and age, where the game is changing every day and every year, it's a new league, speed and skill come into play.
"I've had a lot of doubters through my whole career, a lot of people who didn't believe in me. So, this game is for them.
"That's a really nice accomplishment. I wasn't even supposed to get one game, nevermind 500."
In his first 499 pro games, the 29-year has been able to pot 17 goals and 40 points in 356 NHL skates and 11 goals and 31 points in 143 outings in the AHL.
He heads into Game 500 on a two-game point streak, with two goals and three points in his last couple of games. His last skate came on Dec. 10, a two-point outing against the Arizona Coyotes, and he is trying to carry that momentum into this evening's affair vs. the Dallas Stars.
Video: "It's an honour to be a part of"
"I'm just trying to pick up where I left off, on a real positive note. I've been working hard in practice every day and focusing on little things I can improve on in my game," he noted.
"I know that it wasn't my play that took me out of the lineup. If it was my play, I'd feel differently, but it wasn't so I'm just rolling with the punches and respecting the team's decisions on what they need to do to win the games, and just capitalize ... when I get my opportunity, to seize it and make it harder on the organization and coaching staff to take me out of the lineup."
Since being summoned from the Stockton Heat, where he had seven points in 14 games, Rinaldo has been playing some of the best hockey of his career. While working with modest minutes, he has three points in five games and has been able to inject plenty of energy into every tilt he's played in.
"I tip my hat to the guys in this room and the coaching staff because they believe in me. I think when I have that positivity and belief on my side, it gives me more confidence to do different things and not worry about making mistakes so much," he said of his play at the NHL level this year.
"A big part of it was playing in the A, at the beginning of the year. I was playing 15, 17 minutes a night and that really got my confidence up. I was starting to do things I knew I could do but just hadn't been able to get the ice time to do that. Me being down there, playing as much as I was, really gave me the confidence to prove to myself that I could do these things.
"Now, I'm just generating it over here."