The NHL is evolving.
Size is no longer king — ushered in by smaller skaters such as Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson, Brendan Gallagher and the like, the league is moving towards a new era of hockey, one in which skill trumps size. While stature may still affect a player’s draft stock, teams are more willing to take a flyer out on a shorter forward.
If you can play, you can play. And Denis Malgin can play.
Drafted in 2015 and signed to an entry-level contract this offseason, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound centerman has made waves up to this point in his young career. He’s consistently punched above his weight, holding his own against seasoned competition in spite of his age and build.
And he’s managed to maintain a scoring touch that has typified his game since his formative years.
Now, with a development camp under his belt, Malgin is poised to make the jump to North America. With his talent, the skater’s impending arrival should have Cats’ management champing at the bit.
A Boy Among Men
Back in 2013, the Florida Panthers used the second overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft on Finnish pivot Aleksander Barkov.
Although the pick defied expectations at the time — Seth Jones, the draft’s top-rated skater, was still available, as was nimble winger Jonathan Drouin — one particular factor stood out to then-general manager Dale Tallon.
As a 17-year-old, Sasha Barkov was holding his own against grown men in the Finnish Liiga. Among his achievements: he became the youngest player to score 40 points in a season in the Finnish domestic league, was the youngest player to ever dress for the Finnish U20 contingent, and arguably emerged as the most NHL-ready prospect in his pool.
While numerous distinctions exist between the two players, Malgin appears to possess that same intangible.
Since the nascent stages of his hockey career, the native of Olten, Switzerland, has skated against older, stronger competition to great effect — Malgin has scored at a 1.15 point-per-game clip throughout his league career.
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Also, the diminutive forward has appeared in 61 Swiss National League games over the past two seasons, notching 25 points off of seven goals for the top-flight’s Zurich Lions. Additionally, he was named the NLA’s Youngster of the Year for the 2014-15 campaign.
Not bad for an undersized 19-year-old.
Part of his success can be attributed to his maturity. Malgin plays a heady game, described by Rafik Soliman as having “strong hockey sense and offensive instincts.” Other strengths lie in his superior puck-handling skills and swift top gear. What’s more — despite his size, Malgin will stand his ground, banging along the half boards and grinding in front of the net if the occasion calls for it.
All of these facets combined to produce a “B” skater ranking from NHL Central Scouting, indicative of a second or third-round talent.
Yet, somehow, the Cats snagged him in the bargain bin, 102nd overall.
On Top of the World
His league exploits may impress, but Malgin’s international stats sparkle.
Representing his native Switzerland at the U16, U17, U18 and U20 levels, the forward has brought his brand of two-way hockey to the world’s stage, even serving as the captain of the U18 side.
Just how good was he?
Wearing his nation’s colors, Malgin’s posted a respectable 16 points off of two goals through 12 World Junior Championship tilts, exhibiting his playmaking touch on an otherwise outgunned Swiss team. In his tenure with the U18 contingent, he matched eight goals to eight assists, putting up 16 points through 17 contests en route to a 2015 Tournament All-Star Team selection.
Some might be quick to dismiss his domestic success, pointing out that those figures came against inferior competition.
His World Junior output, though, casts those criticisms aside: Coming against the world’s best in an elevated age bracket, Malgin’s proved that he’s no fluke.
According to the Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov, Malgin is set to join the Panthers’ organization for the upcoming season. Barring a superlative training camp, he’ll ship off to Springfield to hone his craft and acclimate to the North American game at the minor league level.
Per Hockey’s Future, the versatile forward houses the potential to evolve into a top-six scorer in the mold of Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin.
Who’s to say Malgin can’t achieve that ceiling?
After all, Panarin’s just 5-foot-11.
A rower-turned-writer at the University of Florida and an incoming MA in Journalism student at DePaul University, I have: Worked as a staff writer for the Independent Florida Alligator; covered the Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers; reported on international tournaments for Hooked On Hockey Magazine; and functioned as an entertainment correspondent with the Gainesville Sun. If you’re interested, you can also follow me on Twitter @ajlb95.