The first thing that stands out about Noel Acciari is his toughness.
At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, the hard-nosed winger makes up for his smaller stature with unbridled passion and energy. He blocks shots, wins faceoffs, throws the body and isn't afraid to get into a scrap. Regardless if he's battered, bruised or banged up in any way, he's going to give 100 percent every shift.
He's also the type of player Dale Tallon knew the Florida Panthers needed to bring in.
"That's what we've been lacking," the Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager said. "This guy's going to make people accountable, and make our own players accountable as well. He's a versatile player. He will take some of the burden away from others by taking D-zone faceoffs, killing penalties and playing that physical role. He gives our fourth line a little more spirit and passion."
Heading to South Florida after signing a three-year deal on the opening day of NHL free agency on July 1, Acciari joins the Panthers after spending his entire career in Boston. In four seasons with the Bruins, the 27-year-old registered 18 goals, 13 assists, 86 blocked shots and 505 hits in 180 regular-season contests.
A wrecking ball on the ice, Acciari dished out 373 hits over the last two seasons, ranking tied for 16th in the league in hits per game (2.8) among NHLers that competed in at least 100 games during that span. In that same time, he also shined while on the penalty kill, suiting up for 194:44 of shorthanded ice time.
"It means the world," Acciari said shortly after joining the Panthers. "I'm very excited. I just want to thank the organization, Dale, and everyone else for believing in me. I'm excited to be a Panther and excited for what's to come. It's been a bit of a whirlwind, not knowing free agency and being wanted. It's special, but at the same time it's hectic. Me and my family, we made the right choice."
Video: Noel Acciari on his decision to sign with Panthers
A native of Johnston, Rhode Island, Acciari played his college hockey at nearby Providence College, where he captained the Friars to an NCAA championship in 2015. He joined Boston's organization as a free agent following that season, spending 75 games with AHL Providence over parts of two campaigns.
During his time in the AHL, he was a teammate of current Panthers forward Frank Vatrano, who was traded to Florida in 2018. Once he'd hit the open market, Acciari said Vatrano called him right away.
"Frank and I go back. We were close friends, and we still are," Acciari said. "He was all excited and gave me the call immediately. He was like, 'You've got to come here. It's great down here. You've got the sun, everyone's great, the team's great and the guys are great. It's an easy fit and you'll have fun. Once the season starts and all the chips fall, we're going to be in a good spot. We want you to be a part of it.'"
Vatrano said he's happy Acciari listened to "his spiel" and is excited to play alongside his friend again.
"He's probably one of the nicest guys I've ever met off the ice, and on the ice he works really hard," said Vatrano, who is also signed through 2021-22. "He's probably one of the biggest hitters and the strongest guys I know. I think he's going to add some depth to our lineup and help us out in a huge way."
It can often be hard for a bottom-six player to make headlines, but Acciari has already done that.
An integral part of Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final this past season, he chipped in two goals, two assists and a team-leading 74 hits to help the Bruins come one win of a championship against St. Louis. Following Game 7, it was revealed he'd been playing with a broken sternum since the second round.
"When I think of Noel, I think of watching him in the playoffs this year," new Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said. "He had one of those years where the one thing you noticed about the Boston Bruins was the line he played on. That grit factor and intangibles, killing penalties and being a faceoff guy. He's got that ingredient that maybe our team could use and needs. He fits the role perfectly for us."
Healthy and hungrier than ever, Acciari is eager to get back into contention for a Cup with the Panthers.
"It's everyone's dream to win a Stanley Cup," said Acciari, who has appeared in 35 career postseason contests. "To be one game away was special. Not many people can make it to a Stanley Cup Final. Personally, it was a great experience, but at the same time we didn't win. It lights a fire under you. You want to get back there as soon as possible."