The Memorial Cup tournament is currently well under way in Kamloops, British Columbia, with each team having played at least two games. One prospect we’re keeping a keen eye on is our 2021 5th round draft: Quebec Remparts left wing pick James Malatesta.
We hear teams say it all the time after they make a pick: “We can’t believe he was still available”. In the case of Malatesta, that seems really true after the Jackets nabbed him with pick #133 in the draft. He was ranked much higher universally – some services had him as high as the early second round – but he fell to the Jackets in the 5th round.
Part of this is probably due to his size. But even at 5’9″, Malatesta is a sturdy player, weighing 190 pounds – and he uses his strength well to finish off opponents with big hits on the forecheck. This season, he emerged as more of a goal scorer, ending the year with 37 tallies in just 55 games for the high powered Remparts.
The postseason is built for players like Malatesta; and he took full advantage, scoring 14 goals in just 18 playoff games, helping his team win the QMJHL title. This torrid pace has only revved up at the Memorial Cup tournament – through three games, he leads the entire tournament with four goals.
This tournament consists of the championship winning teams from each of the leagues in the CHL, as well as the host team – which is usually stacked up for this tournament. This means that Malatesta is outperforming some of the best players in junior hockey, while his team competes for the ultimate prize at that level.
Not just a physical banger, Malatesta uses his speed, hands, and deceptive release to burn defenders and beat goaltenders. He’s a dangerous goal scorer from a variety of angles in the offensive zone, and isn’t afraid to get net-front for deflections or cross-crease attempts. It’s his work ethic and willingness to battle that has generated a lot of his offense, and that typically translates well to the professional game.
With all of that said, it’s important to temper expectations for a guy who was taken in the fifth round of the draft. He’s got a lot to work on in his game still, in particular it’s those little details that need chipping away, such as defensive zone checking – but, he’s progressing really well and is definitely on an upward trend. Already under contract with the Blue Jackets, he’ll turn pro this fall and should spend the season in the AHL.
If you like a player comparison, perhaps my favorite one is former Jacket Matt Calvert. He had an eerily similar season in 2009-10, with his Brandon Wheat Kings hosting the Memorial Cup that year. Calvert scored 47 goals in 68 regular season games (.69 per game), as well as 99 points (1.46 per game). Malatesta’s totals this year gave him an average of .67 goals per game, and 1.2 points per game.
His Memorial Cup tournament has been slightly more productive thus far – Calvert scored 3 goals and 1 assist in 5 games – but, like Calvert, he’s a pesky two-way presence who can strike with a quick goal, and who does whatever it takes to help his team win.
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When you have a player who seems to be setting the world on fire like this, it’s important to temper expectations. While I think he projects a little bit better than Calvert because he’s more of a natural goal scorer – and I don’t see the Jackets rushing him to the NHL with this management regime – I still think his ceiling is, at its absolute best, on the second line. More likely, he’s a bottom-six winger who makes it really difficult for the opposing teams to play against. This is a great prospect for the Blue Jackets, who should be NHL ready in 1-2 years.