James Malatesta drew a lot of attention last season, winning the QMJHL Playoff MVP Award – as well as being named Memorial Cup MVP. He turned pro this fall, and continues his upward trend as an NHL prospect.
Originally taken by the Blue Jackets in the fifth round (#133 overall) at the 2021 NHL Draft, Malatesta has seen his stock do nothing but steadily rise over the last two seasons. In his draft year, he scored 10 goals and 23 points in 32 games. His first post-draft season saw his production ramp up to 28 goals and 53 points in 68 games.
A red-hot start to the season last fall earned him an entry level contract with the Blue Jackets, signed in early December. My gut tells me there is zero regret from the team with that decision. Last year, Malatesta totaled 37 goals and 66 points in just 55 regular season games, before taking off with a ridiculous post-season run. He scored 14 goals in 18 QMJHL playoff games, helping his Quebec Remparts to a Memorial Cup berth: where he scored 5 goals in 4 games, taking home MVP honors in both regards.
This season, he started out slowly with the Cleveland Monsters, but has been heating up of late. He has 6 goals and 1 assist in his last 7 games in the AHL; giving him a total of 7 goals and 10 points in 20 games on the season.
While a little bit undersized at 5’9″, Malatesta is a stocky winger (weighing around 190 pounds) who likes to throw his body around. He’s a true pest in that regard, finishing every check with that extra bit of “oomph”, crawling under the opponents’ skin whenever he’s on the ice. And, he’ll take part in any post-whistle activities: evidenced by his 27 penalty minutes – second most on the Monsters.
Malatesta also has an above average hockey IQ and a knack for scoring goals in a variety of ways. In a perfect scenario, he’ll goad you into a retaliatory penalty – then make you pay big time by scoring on the ensuing power-play. In both his size and his play style, he reminds me of Brad Marchand. The big question here is whether or not his skill will translate into the NHL at that level. Time will tell.
But, if his early start in the AHL is any indicator, he’s well on his way. It took him a little bit of time to adjust to the pace of the professional game, but over the last few weeks; his skill and tenacity have been on full display. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a sniff at the NHL level before the end of this year, at least to gauge his progress so far. James Malatesta will be a fan favorite in Columbus in no time.