James Malatesta is carving out a role for himself as a Columbus Blue Jacket

The last few weeks of Blue Jacket hockey have been hard to watch. But as the team struggles to ice a competitive lineup, one player has separated himself from the pack: rookie James Malatesta.
Philadelphia Flyers v Columbus Blue Jackets
Philadelphia Flyers v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

If you had asked me to pick one player to find this outcome before the season, I would have picked James Malatesta. I'm not kidding here - I'm not surprised at all by his play.

What I mean by that is, he's not a guy I would have predicted to make the opening night roster for the Blue Jackets. He wasn't going to come into the NHL and score at a near goal-per-game rate like he did with the Quebec Remparts last season.

But, if you'd asked me to pick one guy who would take full advantage of a call-up and make a difference each and every shift? Malatesta would have been that guy.

Through 10 games, he has just 1 goal and 2 assists. So from that perspective, you might shrug your shoulders.

If you've watched him play, however, you'll know what I'm talking about. Averaging less than 10 minutes per game, Malatesta has brought a ton of energy, and has already been credited with 40 hits.

Put that into perspective: the team leader in hits is Mathieu Olivier, who averages just under three per game.

Now, I won't say that hits are the be-all category for an NHL player, that would be absurd. But, for a guy to step in and play with the kind of swagger that we're seeing in Malatesta, is very refreshing.

He's obviously got a knack for getting under the skin of the opponents. We've seen more than a few post-whistle conversations taking place, which is exactly what we're hoping for out of a guy who projects as a future energy player on this team.

Malatesta has done all of this while staying out of the penalty box entirely. His only penalty was a 5 minute fighting major late in his first NHL game. Since then, it's been a clean sheet.

This weekend, we even saw a glimpse of the goal scoring ability that made him an intriguing 5th round pick for the Blue Jackets. Who doesn't want to see more of this?

Malatesta showcased his hands and his release in tight on this play. If he can catapult this into any sort of scoring consistency, he's well on his way to being a productive bottom-six player for this team. He will be a fan favorite here, maybe as early as next season.

I expect him to be a critical piece for the Cleveland Monsters as they make a playoff run this spring. He will be fun to watch when the games really matter in the AHL, whether that scoring picks up or not.

At the end of a meaningless season, he's giving us a form of entertainment because he's competing. That's all we can ask for out of a young player on a late season call-up.