James Malatesta 5-9, 179 pounds
Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
5th round (#133 overall), 2021 NHL Draft
Playstyle comparisons: Brad Marchand, Matt Calvert
NHL Upside: Middle six forward
Likely professional debut: 2023
Kicking off the top-10 prospects for the Columbus Blue Jackets is James Malatesta, which might come as a bit of a surprise. Just one year removed from being a 5th round pick in the NHL Draft (#133 overall), Malatesta joins a rapidly improving pool of Blue Jackets prospects. But after a terrific year in the QMJHL, we rank him tenth amongst all developing CBJ talent – ahead of several players taken in earlier rounds.
Though smaller in stature (Elite Prospects lists him at just 5-9, 179 pounds), Malatesta plays a chippy, aggressive style, often grinding his way under the skin of his opponents. But what sets James apart from similar players, is the pace and skill that he brings to the game. When you watch him play, his speed is likely the first thing you’ll notice, Malatesta gets up and down the ice in a hurry. Competitive all over, he not only plays hard on the forecheck, but is often one of the first players back to help defend.
Aside from the speed and physicality, Malatesta has a quality shot and is an above average playmaker, evidenced by his 28 goal, 53 point season with the Quebec Remparts, while skating in all 68 games in the regular season. He showed up in the playoffs as well, where he added an additional 5 goals and 8 points through 12 games, helping the Remparts into the third round of the playoffs before elimination.
The one knock on Malatesta would be that, he doesn’t possess an elite skill in any area. That said, as his game matures, it’s also difficult to see any glaring weaknesses. He is a prospect who can truly do a little bit of everything, be it blocking a shot, throwing a big hit, or scoring a timely goal. He will be a fan favorite anywhere he plays; while also being a nightmare for opposing teams and fans alike. For GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets, they should be ecstatic with this pick, Malatesta looks like great value in the fifth round.
While certainly a bit of a project at this point, Malatesta brings a ton of potential and a variety of tools to the table. He will likely head back to the QMJHL for his upcoming 19 year old season, but expect him to turn pro after next year, perhaps spending time with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) at the conclusion of his junior season.