James Malatesta Shows He Has An NHL Future In Extended Columbus Blue Jackets Tryout

By Dan Dukart on April 15, 2024 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue Jackets left wing James Malatesta skates during pregame warmup
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets prospect James Malatesta continued his impressive upward trajectory by scoring his first NHL goal in Saturday night's 6-4 loss to the Nashville Predators

Malatesta, 20, was picked in the fifth round in 2021. In his final season with the Québec Remparts, he was a dominant CHL player, winning both QMJHL playoff and Memorial Cup MVP en route to winning both championships. He turned pro this season and had a so-so start on a deep Cleveland Monsters team. As the season has progressed, he's become a more consistent contributor and was eventually called up after a rash of injuries in Columbus. In 53 games in Cleveland, he's tallied 12-9-21. 

Malatesta may be considered 'undersized' in that he's 5'9", 190 lbs, but he's a bulldog on the ice. He's a tenacious forechecker and an uber-competitive player who finishes every check. On a team that has a lot of young prospects who are known for their playmaking/scoring abilities, Malatesta brings a different - albeit still valuable - element. The coaching staff in Columbus tends to agree, and though he was held off the scoresheet, made an immediate mark in his first few games with the club despite limited minutes. Through 10 games with the Blue Jackets, he's tallied 1-2-3, including his first multi-point game in Nashville.

Here's The Athletic's Scott Wheeler when he discusses Malatesta, his 13th-ranked prospect in the pipeline, in February:

After garnering attention as a potential top two-round guy in his rookie season in the QMJHL, Malatesta’s progression has been slow but steady since. Across his four years in junior, even when the production wasn’t always there, you’d notice Malatesta shift-to-shift and night-to-night because of his advanced speed and competitiveness. Those who know his game weren’t surprised when he impressed the Blue Jackets enough in rookie camps and tournaments to get an NHL deal, or when he made winning plays in big moments to help the Quebec Remparts to a QMJHL title (as playoffs MVP with 14 goals in 18 games) and a Memorial Cup (also as MVP with five goals in four games). He has quickly established himself as a solid AHLer as a rookie, too.

Projecting Malatesta's long-term future with the organization can be both simple and complicated. It's simple in that he's a high-floor, low-ceiling player that should allow him to be a full-time NHLer in the relatively near future. It's not hard to imagine him on a multifaceted fourth line that competes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Athletic's Aaron Portzline listed him as part of a fourth line alongside Dimitri Voronkov when projecting the 2025-26 roster. That timing is notable, because it could be hard for him to crack the lineup next season. Sure, there will be changes aplenty this offseason, but as it stands today, the Blue Jackets have 5+ lines of players already signed. His primary competitors in a bottom-six role - Justin Danforth, Mathieu Olivier, Alexandre Texier, etc. are already higher on the pecking order and have more NHL experience. He'll have to dethrone at least one of them, if not more, to secure a spot.

On the other hand, he brings elements that are lacking through the lineup. He could be a perfect insurance policy against a Danforth injury, and at 20, the organization has plenty of time to develop him in the AHL. 

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