Columbus Blue Jackets player review: James Malatesta

James Malatesta was a late season call-up by the Blue Jackets as they dealt with injuries. His play stood out, and they would have had a hard time sending him back down.
New York Islanders v Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Islanders v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

James Malatesta quietly had one of the most decorated seasons ever by a Blue Jacket prospect last year.

If you combine his QMJHL regular season, playoff, and Memorial Cup numbers, you get 56 goals in 77 games. En route to league and Memorial Cup titles, Malatesta was named MVP in both the playoffs and tournament.

He was obviously going to turn pro, already having signed his entry level contract with the Blue Jackets before last season was up. Which meant a chance to prove himself with the Cleveland Monsters, in the AHL.

Malatesta certainly made his presence felt in the AHL. He scored 12 goals and 22 points in 56 games for the Monsters this year; but it's his energy and compete level that stood out.

He brings his lunch pail to the bench for every shift, working hard on both sides of the puck and finishing every single check. He does not let anyone off easy, and he tries to make a difference every time his skates touch the ice.

What I did not expect this year, was a late-season opportunity with the Blue Jackets. We all thought the team would be better. More importantly, we hoped they would have better injury luck.

Neither thing happened, and by season's end, the Jackets were again loaded with AHL players. Several of them were recalled and demoted multiple times.

Once James Malatesta was recalled, he stuck around for the duration of the season. And he deserved it. He played 11 games for the Jackets, averaging just 10:13 on ice, but he really stood out.

He threw 41 hits in those 11 games, taking just one penalty (a 5-minute fighting major in his first game). Better yet, he found his offense at the very end, scoring three points in the final two games.

The way Malatesta finished this season makes me wonder if he belongs in the AHL any longer. The 5'9", 190 pound forward was a spark plug for this team, and he certainly made his case for more NHL time next year.

Final season stats: 11 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 5 PIMs, -1, 12 shots on goal. Overall grade: A

For a guy who came up and played in his first handful of NHL games with such a terrible team - and play with the confident swagger he had throughout - Malatesta was certainly deserving of a high grade.

I'm excited to see how he does for Cleveland in their playoff run. He's built for that kind of hockey.