As the son of a Pittsburgh Penguins scout, you would think that the team would have jumped on the opportunity to draft Ryan Malone. However truth be told, his father insisted the team pass on him in round three so that the Pens could select Sebastien Caron before taking him in round four. A very astute move for the club perhaps, but one that also showed the young Malone that there would be no free lunches on his journey to the NHL. It’s now five years later, and after a lengthy apprenticeship at St. Cloud State, the scout’s son is making his mark in the big leagues. That said, it should be known that he wasn’t always an automatic ticket to get there.
Flash back seven years ago when Malone the younger had just finished off his senior year in Shattuck-St.Mary’s by tallying 41 goals and 85 points in 50 games. While not many U.S. high school products get selected straight away to NHL teams, surely those totals would be impressive enough for someone to take a chance on him. No such luck.
Questions about his speed kept him on the sidelines on draft day. The following season, Malone played in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers where he totaled 14 goals and 36 points in 51 games and still the NHL didn’t call. However, his performance there was enough to get him a scholarship to St. Cloud State. There he patiently learned his craft under Huskies Head Coach Craig Dahl, who also helped start the careers of Chicago Blackhawk Tyler Arnason among others. Following a freshman year that saw him put up 9 goals and 21 assists in 38 games his name was finally called by the Pens.
After that, he saw his totals drop to 7 goals and 18 assists in 36 games in his sophomore year before improving dramatically in his junior year to 24 goals and 25 assists in 41 games in his junior year. Although injured in his senior year, Malone still managed 16 goals and 20 assists in 27 games and that was enough for the Pens to assign him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the end of the 2002-2003 season. From there it was just a matter of impressing the Pens brass enough to include him amongst the youngsters it would take with them to Pittsburgh to start the 2003-2004 season. Not only did he impress, to date he has tallied 22 goals and 20 assists in 74 games to put him third in the NHL rookie scoring race.
Malone’s game revolves around his willingness to learn, his intelligence and specifically how it makes up for his lack of footspeed. Eric Bowser, a writer at Hockey’s Future’s Penguins desk points out that the rookie “is willing to listen to any teammate, coach or scout to gain advice and use it towards making himself a better all around player. His summer camp training run by Chuck Grillo in Minnesota has been a big help in his development to specific body training and on-ice drills to specific areas of the ice. He may only be a rookie in experience but his four year college experience and endless hours of work during the off season has allowed him to separate from the pack.” Bowser admits that “may not offer great speed” but he also goes on to state that “he works hard by keeping his legs moving and wants to be the first guy back on defense.”
On offense Malone possesses a heavy shot that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He also likes to “bull his way to the net on (partial) breakaways (ala Ryan Smyth), making “a quick move forcing the goalie to react allowing him to use his quick hands,” Bowser comments. All in all, Bowser concludes Malone “looks to be a solid left winger with an ability to fill in as a center as he continues to work on winning faceoffs.
While he has played with a variety of linemates since coming to Pittsburgh, for the most part he has played with Rico Fata and Aleksey Morozov, though sometimes he’s lined up with Matt Bradley and Konstantin Kolstov. It seems that Pens Coach Eddie Olzcyk moves him around to spark whatever line needs a boost at the time. On the power play the rookie usually lines up with Milan Kraft and Morozov with Rick Jackman and Dick Tarnstrom on the points. His job with the man advantage “is to block the goalie’s sight line” Bowser states. While he has improved on the penalty kill as the season went on, earlier in the year Bowser explains that “he struggled knowing when to and when not to drop down to block a shot or when to cover down low leaving the point man open.”
While there are a few good power left wingers in the NHL today, Bowser compares Malone “to former Islanders great Clarke Gilles for his work ethic, defensive awareness, and (being so) hard to knock off the puck. The Penguins,” he points out “haven’t had a strong rookie on the puck since Jaromir Jagr.”