Custom Search

Leafs hunting big names but also need a Malhotra-type to be successful at this time of year

I’m no expert on Manny Malhotra.  In fact, I’d be able to suggest quite accurately that I don’t know a great deal about him.

I mean, I’ve watched his career unfold since he was a well-known junior, but if you had asked me about him say, three years ago, I probably would have told you he never lived up to (perhaps unfair on my part) early expectations, and for all I knew, he was not even playing in the NHL.

Now, the guy is a celebrity—a hockey warrior-type who is seen as an indispensible guy in the rough and tumble reality of playoff hockey, coming off a near-disastrous eye injury.

His return to action Saturday night against the Bruins, while perhaps not Willis Reed-like, was memorable indeed.

Now an experienced third/fourth-liner, the guy is seen as a classic modern-day worker-bee:  industrious, smart, rugged, also able to kill penalties and play a shutdown role as needed.

The odd thing is (and this is yet another lesson for players coming out of junior as high draft choices with stars in their eyes) Malhotra, at least the kid I remember, was supposed to be something different.

Now, he didn’t, as I recall, put up huge numbers in junior, but he had real good size and the Rangers picked him 7th overall in the 1998 entry draft.  Prematurely, I think, he made the Rangers as an 18 year-old.  There was a fair bit of fuss about his big jump to the NHL.

Now, when you are picked that high in the first round, unless you are projected to be a Bob Gainey (and even back in 1973, people raised their eyebrows when the Habs’ resident genius, Sam Pollock, selected a tall, defensively-minded kid as the 8th overall pick) people expect you to score goals:  a lot of goals, usually.

Malhotra played with the Rangers the next three seasons, with some time in the AHL, too.  He played a year and a bit for the Stars, before being picked pp on waivers (not usually the sign of a guy whose career is moving forward) when he was still only 23 and already on his third NHL team.

Four plus years with the Jackets saw him earn about 16 minutes of ice a night.  Until his one year with the Sharks (2009-’10), he had played a total of 9 NHL playoff games.

But he had a nice season with San Jose (finishing +17, the best of his career) and played a ton for them in the playoffs last spring.

This year with Vancouver, after signing as an relatively un-heralded free agent, he had another solid year, was a plus player again, logging his usual 16 minutes or so a night, playing against top lines and handling his job very well.

All this until the awful injury that we thought might have ended his career back in March.

Now, he’s back, miraculously, ready to play again.

He is now 31, with almost 800 NHL regular-season games under his belt with five different teams.  Until fairly recently, it was a long, uncertain road.  And just as he was becoming a favorite in Vancouver, the injury set him back.  But a combination of great medical support and personal courage seem to have brought him back.

Malhotra's is a great story that has been building for years.  Coming back from this injury makes it an even better story.

Meanwhile, the Leafs are looking for elite forwards and need an infusion of skill, for sure.

But as the “Burke-build” unfolds, here’s hoping he can land a Malholtra-type for the blue and white—the blood and guts kind of player that just helps you win.


No comments:

Post a Comment