Why the Maple Leafs traded for Denis Malgin

Denis Malgin has very good first impressions of his new city and his Maple Leafs teammates, even jokes about the media coverage, but is focused on doing whatever he can to help his new team make the playoffs.

TORONTO – The arrival of Denis Malgin is further evidence of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ advantage.

The NHL operates under a restrictive salary cap, absolutely. All 31 franchises must play by those rules.

But if you’re the mighty Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and if you can flood the gates and fill the sushi plates in good times and in bad, there are ways to colour outside the lines, to flex your financial muscle in the corners.

Consider the two young players on the rise general manager Kyle Dubas has traded in recent days to address his present issues of backup goaltending and bottom-six depth.

Speaking coldly (because, hey, it’s a business), both Trevor Moore and Mason Marchment — the pieces Dubas dealt for immediate help in the form of Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford and Malgin — were found money.

Moore and Marchment arrived four years ago as raw, undrafted players the Leafs’ expensive and expert development team poured hours into moulding into NHL potential.

The late-blooming Marchment, who didn’t start playing major junior until 19 years of age, signed his AHL contract with Toronto back in 2016. The Leafs pounced on Moore that same year, after the spark plug turned heads at the University of Denver.

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By rolling out one of the league’s deepest scouting and development staffs and investing time into refining individual skills, Toronto can afford to take more flyers on athletes with upside and has smartly been able to churn out prospects they can either promote or flip.

"Marchment’s a guy that I’ve worked with a lot, and he’s put in a ton of work on himself," Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "He’s a great kid that’s put in a ton of work and really worked at his game. That’s a credit to him for putting the work in, for our development staff, and the Marlies organization for the work that they put in to develop an undrafted player that we’re able to trade for an NHL asset.

"We found a way to get a younger player with more NHL experience and more ready to contribute right now."

Enter Malgin, No. 62 in your program because that’s the number he was handed at a Florida Panthers training camp, and — woo-hoo! — he made the cut.

At 23, he’s younger than Marchment, 24, but carries more big-league experience, scoring 60 points in 184 games for the Panthers before Dale Tallon granted a reported trade request from Malgin’s agent, Petr Svoboda, and shipped him to Toronto.

Upon being trotted out to face the biggest media scrum of his life, Malgin sheepishly denied asking out himself Thursday, but perhaps we’re getting into semantics.

"I didn’t want to leave Florida. I don’t know what they were thinking," Malgin said. "It was a surprise. But now I’m here, and the goal is to make the playoffs."

What Florida was thinking is that Malgin — undersized at five-foot-nine and 177 pounds — was not establishing himself as a force in a talent-rich top six, nor was he bringing the necessary ingredients to convince new coach Joel Quenneville that he fulfilled the three-time champion’s vision for a bottom-six winger.

Keefe, meanwhile, has been happy to broadcast with his desire for bottom-of-the-lineup depth since Ilya Mikheyev hit injured reserve.

Tinkering almost nightly, Keefe has been craving more trustworthy contributions from a rotating cast that has seen in-season tryouts for a list of tweeners like Pontus Aberg, Nic Petan, Egor Korshkov, Adam Brooks and Marchment.

Of this cluster, only Pierre Engvall has transcended to the status of Leafs regular.

There’s certainly no guarantee Malgin, who turns RFA on July 1, sticks. But starting Thursday, in a critical game against Pittsburgh, he’ll get his crack.

"When I was a little kid, I always wanted to play in Montreal or Toronto," said the native of Olten, Switzerland. "Now I’m here, and I’m excited."

Part of why he’s here, not unlike Campbell or Clifford, is because of familiarity.

Leafs assistant coach Paul McFarland worked closely with Malgin for two seasons in Florida and speaks highly of his competitive streak and ability to keep pace with elite playmakers.

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And Auston Matthews and Malgin formed a bond as the two youngest pros on the 2015-16 Zurich Lions, keeping in touch when their paths have crossed since.

"I just tried to make contact with him because he was a younger guy too," Malgin said. "We had some fun together."

Matthews describes his reunited teammate as small but skilled.

"Really shifty and elusive. A good skater and sees the ice well. So, nice to have a familiar face around the locker room," Matthews said. "He’s somebody that likes to work on his game quite a bit, so it’ll be good to have a guy like him here, and I’m sure he’ll fit in just fine."

Captain John Tavares, too, sees an alignment between Malgin and the Leafs’ style of play under the Dubas/Keefe regime.

"Anytime you get to a new situation, you get a new opportunity," Tavares said, "it gives you good life, good jump."

At a time the Leafs need it.

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