He might just be the best player you forgot the Leafs had. Denis Malgin appeared in just 8 games for the Leafs last season, but there was a time when the 2015 4th rounder was making a name for himself in Florida. More accurately, he was distinguishing himself from Evgeni Malkin. The 2015 draft was a strong one for Switzerland, with Timo Meier going 9th overall and Jonas Siegenthaler in the 2nd round. Still it was Malgin who broke into the NHL first as a 19 year old, with 10 points in 47 games.
Malgin made two appearances for Switzerland at the WJC before being joining the Panthers, tying for the team lead with 7 points in 6 games in 14-15 and leading the team outright the following year with 9 points in 6 games. The diminutive winger was also a teammate of Auston Matthews on the ZSC Lions before coming to North America.
Denis Malgin’s number is 192
That’s how many NHL games Malgin has played to date, and he’s not turning 24 until January. There is no guarantee he hits the 200 milestone this season, at this point it is still unclear if Malgin will remain in Switzerland or if he’s Toronto-bound. My intuition says the former, but Malgin certainly has enough to offer that we’ll assume the latter.
Teams can carry 23 players on their roster plus 4-6 Taxi Squad players, but the Leafs currently don’t have the cap flexibility to carry more than 21. The Taxi Squad is essentially minors for salary and waivers purposes, so depth guys like Pierre Engvall, Travis Boyd, and Aaron Dell are likely to appear there. If the decision for remaining spots is between Malgin and Nic Petan, who fill a similar role, Sheldon Keefe preferred Malgin down the stretch last season.
What Malgin brings to the table is speed, offensive vision, and zone entries. Of all forwards with at least 100 controlled zone entries last season, Malgin gained the offensive blue line with possession at the 60th highest rate. In fact he had a nearly identical controlled entry rate to Mitch Marner and William Nylander, who you may be more familiar with. In the unfortunate event that one of those two miss games, Malgin could step into a top 6 role and ensure Matthews or Tavares have a guy to carry the puck through the neutral zone.
While Malgin is aggressive with his stick checking, he’s not going to generate takeaways like Marner or Nylander. For that reason Malgin would be noticeably less effective in the defensive zone, the hope being that his ability to move the puck up ice results in less defensive zone play than if you were to plug a player like Vesey into the top 6.
When the Leafs had Tyler Ennis I remember an unnerving amount of times where he went on a rush without knowing his linemates were changing, beating a defenceman to the outside and then churning time until new teammates arrived. It was a really useful skill, but it didn’t amount to much when Freddy Gauthier was galloping along behind the play. When you give the same opportunities to Malgin with a center who only needs 6″ to shoot the puck cutting through center ice, it will result in many more goals off the rush.
The difficulty with Ennis was that he seemed to become magnetized to the net when the play broke down, getting bullied by defencemen around the crease. Malgin has this tendency to fade away, elude a defender, and get open for a cut to the net. He seems to occupy so little space that defenders don’t bother to adjust to him, and when the puck hits his stick it’s already too late. He has the agility to break off a defender, take two steps, and get the shot off with his quick release.
In the NLA this season Malgin has 10 goals and 17 points in 16 games, leading a team with multiple former NHLers. For reference, Joe Thornton had 11 points in 12 games in that league before returning Home to Toronto. Malgin has already played 192 NHL games, and it seems as if he’s still on the rise. If he makes his way onto the Taxi Squad he can tack on a few more, but Malgin isn’t going to be in the lineup if things are going smooth for the Leafs. Despite so much NHL experience, at 23 years old Malgin can still develop from being a top player in another league. If he keeps making highlight reel plays, he’s going to be a valuable RFA to sign in the summer, and he’ll blow past 200 NHL games in 2021-22.