It’s not often we get a one and done player for our Top 25 Under 25 list, but here comes Denis Malgin.
You can be forgiven for not remembering he was even on the team at this point because he played in only nine games with them before the league shut down.
Where did he come from again?
The 24 year-old from Switzerland was acquired in a mid-February trade where the Maple Leafs sent Mason Marchment to the Panthers. Malgin was a Panthers draft pick in 2015. He played in Zurich on the ZSC Lions through the end of the 2015-16 season—with a teenage hockey savant yet to be drafted by an NHL team named Auston Matthews—and then joined the Panthers for the next season. He bounced between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds the following two seasons. From a combination of injuries and scratches he has yet to pass 51 games-played in a regular NHL season, and now because of COVID-19 he won’t pass that mark again this season.
What did he do in those nine Leafs games?
First, while he’s played in nine games as a Leaf, he’s actually been here for ten. Even though he regularly played on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander, Malgin has already been a healthy scratch once.
Let’s start at the beginning. His first game was on February 18 against the Penguins and he played on a line with Nylander and Tavares, and then joined them again for the next game against the Hurricanes (that was the infamous David Ayres game).
Then came the game against the Lightning on February 25 and something weird happened. When you look at the shift chart you can see two long stretches in the game where he didn’t play; Sheldon Keefe swapped in other players on the fly. Malgin clocked only seven minutes of ice time in that game, the lowest on the team. I’m not certain what happened for the first incident, though the time he was out did cover two power plays and two penalty kills and since Malgin isn’t being used on those special teams units you could understand Keefe planning to put him out but being foiled by another PK/PP situation arising again and again.
However, the second benching started right after he was on the ice for a Lightning goal. Here’s a video clip of what happened:
Bad luck or bad play batting down the puck and then not staying in front of Gourde? Either way, Malgin’s skates didn’t touch the ice for the rest of that game (12 minutes), and then he was a healthy scratch for the next game against the Panthers—his old team—with Keefe choosing to play 11 forwards and 7 defenceman by swapping Malgin out for Calle Rosen.
I don’t know exactly what Keefe’s thoughts were, but it looks like he was not too pleased with what happened in that video clip. Malgin’s next game was against the Canucks, and he was demoted to play with Frederik Gauthier and Pierre Engvall. Over the next four games he bounced around the lines, briefly going back to playing with Nylander and Tavares, but then also playing with Spezza and Engvall.
Votes - Denis Malgin
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So where does Malgin fit with the Leafs?
Malgin has been moved up and down the lineup quite a bit in a short period of time. It looks like Keefe was really not sure what to do with him, which makes sense because he was new. I don’t see a point to rewrite the original Malgin article linked above which is from the time of the trade; we haven’t learned much more about him since then. Nine games with fluctuating ice time and linemates is not something on which we can draw many conclusions, but we can still look at the big picture and where he fits on the team right now.
Here’s what our voters think.
Arvind: I like Malgin well enough. He’s clearly an NHL player to me, and can be a decent if unspectacular complementary player on a bottom six line. To rank above Malgin on my list, players either had to already be in the NHL, or have a reasonable chance of doing so with some level of upside. He’s a bit of a line of demarcation. Anyone worse than Malgin is a fringe NHLer (it’s fair to categorize Malgin himself as that based on his track record, but I view him as slightly better than that). As long as he’s super-cheap, I’m happy to have him and play him among the Leafs depth.
Katya: One year, years ago and for reasons I don’t even remember, I got really into the Swiss team at the World Championships. I think that was the year Fabrice Herzog scored three goals and Leafs fans decided he was a real prospect. Malgin was the youngest player on that team, and he scored zero goals, but he sure looked like a player with the stars of the NLA. And then he went and seemingly beat his head against a wall in Florida and couldn’t firmly grab a lineup spot. Malgin was actually traded for Mason Marchment in a lowkey fleecing of the Panthers, but he really was swapped for Dmytro Timashov. He’s slightly better overall, slightly more versatile in that he has been a centre, and almost exactly the same age. He can score a little in a depth role, but that said, he could vanish back to the NLA and not leave much of a hole. I ranked him in with some prospects who may end up in that same boat, but I think he marks a demarcation for voters largely how Arvind described it.
Kevin: Malgin already had 192 NHL games under his belt, and he’s younger than Engvall, Brooks, and Korshkov. He’s a little bit underrated by Leafs fans, as he didn’t register a point in his eight game stint with the Leafs, and half the fanbase seems to hate the idea of having a 5’9” forward in the bottom six. He’s an NHL forward who should be playing in the NHL, and while the Leafs cannot afford to give him much of a raise, he’d be a fine contributor on any team. I don’t have him higher because he doesn’t bring a ton of value above a replacement level player, and like Nic Petan last year, there’s at least a chance he doesn’t make the team next year (especially if he wants a raise). I think he’s fine defensively, and I actually like him at centre, especially when he’s paired with Engvall or Spezza to help him with faceoffs.
Restricted Free Agent
Malgin’s contract is over at the end of this season (whenever that will be!) and he will become a restricted free agent. The negotiations will be interesting with a backdrop of a possible salary cap freeze, players returning from injury like Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev, the potential for Alexander Barabanov to join the team, Dubas moving Adam Brooks to a full-time NHL role, and, oh, that NHL expansion draft on the horizon, but he also has the right to invoke salary arbitration to settle it.
Of all the players on the roster right now, his future has to be the most uncertain.