Of all the question marks surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs one that seems to be drawing the ire of Leafs Nation is who will play alongside John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line.
There have been a few names in particular swirling around as possibilities to slide into that second line spot with Calle Järnkrok, Nick Robertson and Pierre Engvall being the three that seem to be grabbing the most attention, but with Engvall sidelined to start camp and there being some question as to whether or not Robertson will start with the big club, there may be a fourth option that could give head coach Sheldon Keefe a little more flexibility in the bottom six.
Denis Malgin skated on the second line at Maple Leafs’ practice on Monday, according to multiple reports, alongside Nylander and Tavares and while it is only preseason and there’s no room for overanalyzing line combinations, it would be irresponsible to not at least explore the idea of slotting Malgin in on the second line to start the year.
Introducing Denis Malgin the NHLer
The Maple Leafs brought Malgin back on an NHL contract in mid-July, signing him to a one-year, $750,000 contract. Malgin had previously played with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20 after being traded to the team in the Mason Marchment deal.
He played just eight games for the Maple Leafs that season and was loaned to Lausanne HC of the Swiss National League in 2020-21 to be closer to his family. He remained in Switzerland for the 2021-22 season with the ZSC Lions where he put up 21 goals and 52 points in 48 games.
Prior to his signing there was a lot of speculation that Malgin was looking to make an NHL return and the Maple Leafs seemed like a good fit for the 25-year-old who has 60 points in 192 regular season games.
As for what he’s done at the NHL level, Malgin’s most productive year came in 2017-18 when he had 11 goals and 22 points in 51 games with the Florida Panthers.
But aside for the potential — which he mostly showed overseas — and the low-cost contract, what makes Malgin a potential fit for the Maple Leafs and their hole alongside Tavares and Nylander?
Maple Leafs Have Depth Potential in Malgin
It’s easy to bypass Malgin as a potential option in the middle six, let alone an option at all to start the season on the active roster. After all, having averaged just 0.31 points per game over his short time in the NHL, he’s not exactly your prototypical option to fill in on the second line.
That said, he’s only 25 and really hasn’t had a legitimate shot at playing big NHL minutes. In fact, he’s averaged about 12 minutes per game over his 192 career games and on some mediocre Panthers teams to boot.
But, refreshed and refuelled with an opportunity to play in the NHL, the once written off European is set to do whatever it takes to crack the NHL and make an impact. Even as a small forward, he’s putting the work in so far at Maple Leafs’ training camp.
“An extra hunger and competitiveness to get the puck back. If you’re going to be an undersized skilled player that’s going to have any success in the NHL, you have to have that intangible or it’s really difficult,” said Keefe on Malgin’s camp thus far and the potential for him to succeed at the NHL level.
Now, some will suggest that it’s just preseason and that ultimately is the difference in his play — that it equates to lower competition and less obstacles in the opposition — but consider what he did overseas and if that translates to the NHL even half as well, Malgin could prove to be a potentially productive player in a depth role.
Aside from his 94 points in 93 games in Switzerland, Malgin also put up another 12 points in eight games for his country at the World Championships, the skill is there. The issue for him as always been bringing that same level of productivity to the NHL.
While it might be his last shot at the show, Malgin understands just how big of an opportunity it is to sign back with the Maple Leafs and get a shot in the preseason.
“NHL is the best league in the world, so you always have that mind to come back,” he said according to Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “That was my goal.”
Now, however, the goal will be to crack the Maple Leafs roster and he’s off to a good start.
Maple Leafs’ Malgin Making Noise Early
He’s quick and skilled and while he’s been overlooked at times in his career, Malgin is catching the attention of his teammates early in preseason. In his first contest, Malgin was lined up with Nylander and made an early impression with his potential linemate, scoring a goal in their 4-1 split squad game against the Ottawa Senators.
While Nylander was blunt on his thoughts of Malgin as a player, calling him a “tremendous little player,” the Maple Leafs captain — Tavares — was a little more vocal on what he thought of Malgin following Monday’s line rushes at practice in which Malgin joined the team’s second line, as per Fox.
“Well, he’s probably just a little bit more familiar with his surroundings. Even just off the ice, he’s a pretty quiet, shy kinda guy, but you can tell he’s opening up a lot more. And obviously (he) had a really good season overseas and just seems really confident in his game.”
Tavares continued by stating that Malgin fit in nicely alongside him and Nylander and that he has a ton of potential and a strong skillset. That was obvious in his first preseason game, but as Keefe noted, the hole on Tavares’ left side remains a big hole with a number of players vying for that spot to kick off the regular season.
Sure, Malgin’s not a sure thing, but given the fact that he’s getting a look, it wouldn’t be smart to completely write him off just yet as a potential filler for the second-line winger come opening night.
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Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.