After spending $44 million last year and failing to make the playoffs, things could not be looking worse for the Rangers. When the media is talking draft in March, something went wrong. What went wrong was the Rangers were just too darn old. Although possessing a few solid prospects, most were from resent drafts and thus were only 18 and 19 years old and most were not under contract. As the draft grew closer the Rangers had their sights set on a center, a big center with allot of upside. Unfortunately their top choices David Legwand and Manny Malhotra were ranked second and sixth respectively. Most experts actually expected them to go second and third. The Rangers chance to draft a big time center was slim. But something happened on that hot June day, somehow to the Rangers surprise Malhotra fell into their laps.
Rangers had tried feverishly that morning to pull off a trade with the Sharks for the second pick. When the Sharks asked for Sundstrom (Malhotra’s linemate ironically), Smith turned him down and the deal died. The Rangers looked at alternatives and Malhotra was right on the top of their list. But the general feeling was he would be snatched up and that they’d have to go with another player. This killed the Rangers’ draft dreams because they weren’t high on Mark Bell, or Rico Fata or another center available. But after the first four picks went as guessed the draft took a weird turn, the Ducks took a gamble on a European defenseman Vishnevsky, and the Flames followed that up by the picking of speed demon Rico Fata. Suddenly the Rangers had their man. The main reason for Malhotra’s slip was his lack of eye popping numbers, but maybe people didn’t look hard enough. Maybe they forgot he was in a checking role all year, and maybe they didn’t catch his 92-point pace Memorial Cup performance, which during the regular season might be over a 100 points. Maybe they over looked his work ethic, maybe they just never knew. But either way Malhotra arrived in Rangers camp that summer in great shape as usual, and quickly won himself a spot on the team.
Unfortunately for Malhotra, his road to the NHL didn’t go smooth at first. Desperate for offense the Rangers traded for Center Petr Nedved and brought up Marc Savard. Due to Nedved’s reputation as a scorer and the fact that Savard, while still young, was three years older at 21 forced Malhotra down to the fourth line. When Malhotra did get the chance to play, he usually showed an offensive spark and played safe hockey. From October to February fans and media called for more ice time for the kid, but John Muckler stuck to his guns and brought the kid in slowly. Then the Rangers Wayne Gretzky went down to an injury and team was in big trouble. They would need everyone on the team to step up and that included the 18-year-old pivot from the OHL. Promoted to the third line, Malhotra’s ice time nearly tripled and he’s made his mark. In four games since the injury Malhotra averages more then a point per game. He has used his great speed, and instincts to keep the opponent in check. Sure enough, Malhotra has proved he has offense, maybe in a big way. And suddenly the NHL is seeing why Malhotra is wearing a Rangers jersey instead of the Canucks jersey that almost came to pass had Smith included Manny in any kind of deal for Pavel Bure.
When Malhotra was scouted and drafted, teams commented that they just didn’t see the offense, well they see it now. While Malhotra will almost certainly never be the next Eric Lindros it is not too far fetched to envision him as a Rod Brind’Amour type player. The ideal second line center. Malhotra brings to the table a solid 6’2, 210 pounds. Solid offense, great defense, and some fighting ability. Although he isn’t a fighter, Malhotra has and will drop the gloves. He proved himself very capable of that in the OHL as he beat one of the OHL’s best fighters last year and this year when he took on t Denis Gauthier of the Flames. Playing under Adam Graves has helped too and in many ways the Rangers compare the two. Although maybe not a 50 goal scorer he plays almost the exact same way only with an added 2 inches and ten pounds. Either way you look at it, Malhotra has proved to be an NHL player and it is my opinion he will be a great one. He should be good enough to net 35 goals, 50 assists and 85 points in his prime, as well as be a perfect second line center. People will doubt it now but didn’t they do the same when Mark Messier was a young 18 year old?