TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #19 Hudson Malinoski
Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honor the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2023 draft class felt eerily similar to the 2021 class. After former general manager Kyle Dubas spent a large chunk of the team’s draft capital on various trades around the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs were left with only three picks in the 2023 NHL Draft. While having just three picks doesn’t look great on paper, if you use your limited capital on quality prospects, it won’t matter in the long run. And forward Hudson Malinoski is somebody worth keeping an eye on as a sneaky board climber.
Selected in the fifth round (153rd overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2023, Malinoski’s resume won’t immediately jump off the page at you. The Maple Leafs drafted the 19-year-old centre as a draft+1 prospect out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), a junior A league that’s produced the likes of Mark Messier, Lanny MacDonald, and Cale Makar, among others. The Saskatoon native spent his first year of draft eligibility playing AAA as a 17-year-old, and proceeded to put up 69 points in 44 games as a member of the Brooks Bandits this past season, the team Makar played for in his draft year.
Usually, when a re-entry player is selected, it’s because they were a late-bloomer of some sort, but Malinoski’s reason for getting passed over once before is hardly a common one.
Back in 2017, when he was only 13 years old, he was on the roof of his family home shoveling snow to build a snowboard jump for himself and a friend. He then slipped and fell 10-12 feet off of the roof and had to be taken to the emergency ward at a Saskatoon hospital. There, he was diagnosed with a concussion, but the prognosis turned out to be much more serious.
After a meeting with a neurologist, it was discovered that he had a torn vertebral artery, which can be fatal if left untreated and potentially could have led to a stroke or an aneurysm had they not caught it. From there, Malinoski had to undergo a type of surgery to repair the artery that had never been performed on a child before. Despite the risk of not being able to play the sport he loved ever again, it was necessary to put his life and wellbeing first. Thankfully, he came out on the other side with the ability to play sports still intact and resumed activities the following season. (There’s a really good article you can read here that goes much more in-depth on Malinoski’s journey).
At 14 years of age, Malinoski returned to hockey, playing for the Saskatoon Riverkings AA team. He got a full season there before cracking the Saskatoon Blazers AAA team, but it was short-lived with the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was limited to only four games in 2020-21 and didn’t get to play his first full AAA season until the 2021-22 season at 17 years old, which was his first year of NHL draft eligibility. It wasn’t the first time he was overlooked in the draft, having been passed over during his years of WHL draft eligibility too.
With little to no sample size to work with from his time playing AAA, let alone with a junior team, you can see why NHL GMs overlooked him in 2021-22. It certainly wasn’t a fair hand for a player to be dealt, but it only added to his motivation. He joined the Bandits in 2022-23 and finished fourth on team scoring before the Maple Leafs decided to take a chance on him as a fifth-round pick.
Standing at 6’1″ and weighing 174 pounds, Malinoski already has a decent frame for his age and could still add an inch or two and put on some muscle. He plays the style of a power forward and has a very quick release when he’s got the space to take a shot. Despite the hard shot, he’s a better passer than a shooter, with 53 assists to his 16 goals last season. His hockey IQ is strong considering where he is in his development, which checks out; the Maple Leafs’ first picks in the last two drafts before 2023, Fraser Minten and Matthew Knies, both had hockey IQ as a strong suit on their scouting reports.
All of the areas that he needs to improve in are standard for a player of his age, and can/will simply come with further development and more ice time. While he’s relatively tall, he’s still a lanky player and can get knocked off of the puck rather easily. His skating could also use some work, and while he’s got a good grasp on the game, he tends to process the game around him a little bit slower when he has the puck, which is part of why his shot is so effective when he’s on the power play. Despite this being a strength with the man advantage, it’s something that won’t hold up as well at 5v5, especially when he reaches the AHL and NHL levels.
The 2023-24 season is going to be a crucial one to see what the Maple Leafs have in this prospect. After only one season of AAA and one season of Junior A, Malinoski is committed to Providence College of the NCAA for the 2023-24 season. With the departures of New York Rangers prospect Brett Berard and Winnipeg Jets prospect Parker Ford, he’s going to have the opportunity to secure top-six minutes and could be one of the driving forces for a Providence team that finished sixth out of 11 teams in the NCAA’s Hockey East conference.
Was Malinoski’s dominance in the AJHL simply an effect of his age at the time? Or was it because he finally had the chance to show what he could do after playing catchup on the developmental side of things for the past five years? I’m leaning towards the latter, but until he gets to the NCAA and we see how he fares against older competition and a generally higher level of talent, we won’t know. Granted, that’s not to say that next season will make or break him as a prospect. He may need a year or two to get accustomed to the NCAA, so patience could ultimately pay off for the Leafs even if he doesn’t completely break out next season.
Overall, Malinoski is the definition of a low-risk, potentially high-reward prospect. He might be a bit more of a long-term project for the Maple Leafs, but he’s worth taking a gamble on, given the circumstances that led to him going undrafted in 2022. And given the Maple Leafs’ lack of high-ceiling forward prospects, with a strong season at Providence College this year, he could make a significant jump – not only in our prospect rankings but on the Maple Leafs’ prospect depth charts as well.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
Recent articles from Alex Hobson