It cannot be easy for a teenager to pack up and leave home, take a job at the top of his industry in a foreign land and then succeed from the start.
Yet that’s exactly what Denis Malgin is doing with the Florida Panthers.
“It’s a new language and everything,” Malgin said, “but I’m getting better.
“The thing for me is, I came here to play hockey. I really don’t care about anything else. My goal has been to play in the NHL and here I am.”
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Malgin, 19, was drafted by the Panthers in the fourth round last year yet continued playing on in his native Switzerland alongside eventual top draft pick Auston Matthews.
This summer, Malgin traveled to South Florida to participate in the Panthers’ development camp and was so impressive, the Panthers signed him to a contract.
Even after that, no one was really sure where Malgin would fit in this season.
Would he return to Europe? Play for Florida’s top minor league team?
Turns out he hasn’t left sunny South Florida.
“Everything I have seen, I like,” coach Gerard Gallant said about Malgin, who played in his 10th NHL game as Florida’s third line center on Tuesday night and scored his first NHL goal.
“He is getting better every game and has looked like a real threat [to score] the past three games. He looks like a guy who can put a little fear into the other team. He’s got some skill, has some talent. He’s one of those young players who can play a real good game.”
Malgin’s development was rushed a touch, but he only has himself to blame. Malgin opened some eyes at Florida’s development camp with his speed and skill, and only continued that by dominating play at the rookie tournament held just before training camp.
Malgin kept things going at training camp and was well on his way to earning a spot on the team as a bottom-six winger before Nick Bjugstad got hurt.
Once Bjugstad injured his hand in a preseason game, Malgin moved over to center and hasn’t left.
Now, that all changes once Bjugstad comes back in the coming days — he had his cast taken off and has been skating — but Malgin’s spot, at least on the roster and being part of Florida’s plan moving forward, appears to be safe.
In Tuesday’s loss to the Bruins, Malgin gave the Panthers a lift by scoring his first NHL goal pulling Florida within a goal late in the game. Malgin seemingly has been getting more and more scoring chances lately and hopes finally knocking his first one through leads to many more.
“For me, it was a big moment, a dream come true,” Malgin said.
Colton Sceviour was one of Malgin’s original linemates before sliding up to replace Jussi Jokinen and said Malgin’s skill is serving him well. At only 5-foot-8, Malgin utilizes his speed and quick hands to weave through defenses.
“I think you can see his skill when he has the puck. He’s extremely slippery,” Sceviour said. “You see some guys come up with the puck and get knocked off it with a hit, but with him, you see guys try to hit him and he gets away from it. He finds a way to sneak by. He’s very elusive.
“The big thing is you see him getting better defensively every game. I’ve really noticed that improvement lately. He has the offense, but he’s getting better everywhere else.”
▪ The Panthers held a light, optional morning skate on Thursday as the Devils decided to take the morning off and enjoy all Fort Lauderdale Beach has to offer.
Gallant wouldn’t say who was starting in net Thursday as Roberto Luongo took park in the workout while James Reimer did not.