As the Leafs prepare their roster for the upcoming season, they have an option for very cheap and pretty good forward depth, and that is Denis Malgin.
We haven’t seen Malgin play a game for any Toronto club, Leafs or Marlies, since before the pandemic. During the bubble play-ins/playoffs, he was added to the Leafs’ taxi squad, but he didn’t get into any of the games. They were relatively healthy throughout the play-in series, which meant Malgin wasn’t needed then.
This season, since the AHL wasn’t starting right away, the Leafs did what many teams did with their European fringe players and loaned him back to Europe to keep playing hockey. Malgin spent his time in the National League of Switzerland, his home country, both before the play-in series and during the 2021 NHL regular season and playoffs, and both counting towards the 2020-21 season in the Swiss league.
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During that season, Malgin played 45 games for the Lausanne Hockey Club, scoring 42 points in those games and finished 13th in points per game (very slightly ahead of Joe Thornton) of players who played at least 12 games, per QuantHockey (there’s some fun former NHLers in here, including some Leafs). He was also 8th in the league in shots on goal per game, and 12th in shots on goal from the slot. He also led the forwards in ice time per game for his club, and was second on the team in total faceoffs, which suggests that he played center for them.
Since the Leafs traded for Malgin, he’s only played 8 games for them (in which he has 0 points). But he came from Florida where he was at one time a fairly established NHL player at a young age. Let’s review his time in Florida to see what level he should be able to get back to, if given a regular role on the Leafs.
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The first thing we can note is that he was good enough at controlling shot attempts. Per Natural Stat Trick, Malgin had a 51.9% shot share, which is certainly not mind blowing. Mostly it is worth pointing out that he isn’t a detriment there, because many skill players can be a shot attempts detriment because of poor defensive play. This isn’t the case for Malgin. In fact, while Malgin was on the ice, there were 52.45 shot attempts against per 60 minutes of ice time, compared to 59.42 while Zach Hyman was on the ice. While there are a lot of things at play there such that it would be ridiculous to say that Malgin is better defensively than Hyman, it’s an important part of the considerations with Malgin that he’s good on both sides of the puck.
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When looking at “expected goals” numbers, instead of shot attempts, we are looking usually at where those shot attempts are taken from. When we do that Malgin’s numbers plummet. Per Natural Stat Trick again, he’s still pretty good in terms of expected goals against (he would have been second best on the Leafs in terms of rates during the 2018-20 time frame). It’s his offensive numbers that take a hit when factoring in shot location (tied for 31st if he was on the Leafs again in that time frame). The conclusion we draw from that is clear, Malgin doesn’t generate dangerous offensive opportunities, but he does generate a good number of them.
Looking at this data visualization from Hockey Viz summarizes the above discussion on expected goals:

So what now?

Well, we’ve figured out what kind of player Malgin is. He’s a play driving winger, but not one that creates dangerous scoring opportunities regularly. His scoring comes from grinding away lots of shot attempts until one goes in.
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Can the Leafs make use of someone like that? Surely they could. I don’t think there’s a good argument that Malgin can earn a very big role in the Leafs lineup, especially since they are already so built up at right wing with Marner, Nylander, Simmonds, and Spezza to some extent as well.
That said, I think his history in the NHL, and his strong performance during his time in Switzerland throughout the pandemic, make a pretty solid case that he should be given a chance in the lineup, maybe on the left wing or maybe even at the center position where he was drafted and where he played in Switzerland.
At this point, Malgin does not have a contract with the Maple Leafs for next season, but he will be a restricted free agent on July 28. His 2020 contract was just $700k, so they would be able to bring him back for league minimum again, which is $750k starting next season. As such, I would be very surprised if they didn’t ink Malgin to a new contract soon.
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Whether the opportunity I think he deserves comes is obviously up to Sheldon Keefe. Keefe was coach of the Maple Leafs when Malgin got his 8 game stint, so hopefully he likes what Malgin can bring to the fringes of the Leafs’ forward group. Only time will tell, of course.