Before this preseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs Denis Malgin was a forgotten player. Many Maple Leafs’ fans – including myself – thought he had shuffled off to Switzerland to continue his professional hockey career close to home. I thought he would probably stay.
In September 2021, Malgin seemed to make that so when he signed a four-year contract with his Swiss club ZSC Lions in Zurich. Because he had been issued a qualifying offer by the Maple Leafs, the team had retained his NHL rights. But, honestly, that just seemed as if it was an “okay-just-in-case” sort of deal.
Not many fans expected him back in Toronto. Given Malgin’s age and the reality of the four-year contract with a Swiss team, it seemed likely that he’d disappear in Europe. His NHL career seemed over; if it were, he would have played just under 200 games (192) with the Florida Panthers and the Maple Leafs. His stats would have stayed at 28 goals and 32 assists.
The Maple Leafs Give Malgin Another Chance in July
It was a surprise then that the Maple Leafs re-signed Malgin to a one-year deal in July of this year. It was especially interesting that the contract was a one-way deal. Obviously, Malgin had impressed the organization with his 2021-22 season in Switzerland, where he scored 21 goals and added 31 assists (for 52 points) in 48 games.
When Malgin showed up in training camp, it seemed obvious that he wasn’t the same player who had tried unsuccessfully to make the Maple Leafs’ roster only a few seasons before. He impressed Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe with his play at camp even early in training camp. Keefe especially noted Malgin’s “hunger and competitiveness away from the puck.”
The five-foot-nine forward was not only a fast skater, but he was crafty with the puck once he had it on his stick. In addition, he was a much more physical player than most fans expected. It was a given that he had an offensive upside, but he was proving to be a stronger two-way player as well.
Malgin Makes a Case for a Roster Spot
In short, Malgin impressed. It seemed as if he would earn a roster spot on the Maple Leafs’ bottom six. During the preseason, Malgin continued to show his ability by scoring the game-winning goal in a 5-1 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings.
The goal against the Red Wings was a highlight reel and teammate Auston Matthews (for some reason) called it a “crispy” goal. Malgin tied a Red Wings defender into a knot before he beat goalie Jussi Olkinuora.
Overall, Malgin scored four goals and added four assists in six preseason games. All this paid off because, after the Maple Leafs waived several players, Malgin was left standing. The Maple Leafs found that Malgin’s Swiss pedigree was obviously well-earned.
Malgin’s Good Play Extends into the Regular Season
When the regular season began, Malgin continued to score. In the first game of the season, a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Malgin scored to give his team the lead. It was his first NHL game since 2019-20, and it was a good one.
One attribute that Malgin has always had is that he tends to score big goals. That was also true in his time with the Florida Panthers. In 2018-19, which was Malgin’s second NHL season, 10 of his 11 goals either pulled the Panthers even or gave them the lead.
After Matt Murray’s groin injury, when the team’s salary-cap upper limit suddenly had more space, the team brought up Nick Robertson and put him into what was Malgin’s spot on the team’s second line. However, that probably had less to do with Malgin’s poor play than Robertson fitting better in the top six than in the bottom six.
After scoring a goal in his first regular-season game, Malgin saw his ice time fall to 8:44 against the Arizona Coyotes. (The team lost that game.) However, Malgin scored his second goal of the season in the team’s overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks late in October. Ironically, Robertson assisted on the play.
Malgin Moves to David Kampf’s Line
Although Malgin was a regular scratch early in the season, he recently found a place on center David Kampf’s line. Kampf has continued to be both consistent and reliable. When Zach Aston-Reese joined that line, he too showed those same qualities. Those two players are learning to work together better and now have started to build chemistry.
When Nicolas Aube-Kubel was waived and picked up by the Washington Capitals, Malgin joined that line. Today when speaking to the media, coach Keefe noted that Malgin’s inclusion into that line “has brought another layer or level of skill that has kept them on offence even more and kept the puck away from (the other team’s) good players.”
However, Keefe also added that “Right now, we are happy with Malgin there. The reality is that if Malgin keeps playing the way that he has, he is probably going to elevate in the lineup, but at the same time, I am hesitant to do it because it is working so well in that role.”
Malgin’s Breakthrough Season Thus Far
The Maple Leafs’ coaching staff doesn’t yet know where to regularly deploy Malgin; however, they’re going to deploy him. Given the Swiss player’s ability to work effectively on any line the Maple Leafs utilize – from the first line to the fourth – it would seem Malgin will have a place on this team.
Given where we were in July, that’s a surprising breakthrough.