The story is well known among Ranger fans, a kid chosen in the first round is branded by the GM as savior and by the coach as a role-player. And so have gone the fortunes of one Manny Malhotra as he arrived at one of the worst times in the Rangers recent history.
It was back in 1996 when the center made his debut in juniors. Joining the Guelph Storm, he lead all players with 44 points adding another 14 in only 18 playoff games. That same season he played in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge and was named MVP of the tournament.
The following year he once again impressed in a junior tournament, as he captained the Canadian Under-18 squad to the Gold Medal, a performance that helped him attain a #6 CSB ranking.
Following such a successful start to his junior career, Manny was made the number seven pick of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, selected by Neil Smith and the New York Rangers. At the time, Malhotra was considered one of the most NHL ready players in the draft, a view that was shared by the Rangers GM.
Prior to the beginning of the 1998-1999 NHL season, Smith was already out promoting his latest draft pick already proclaiming him as a future captain, before he’d played a single NHL game. Lacking youth in the organization, Malhotra found himself playing in the big leagues at the tender age of 18. It wasn’t a particularly successful season, until late in the year when he stepped in to replace an injured Wayne Gretzky and looked like the #1 pick he was selected with.
Things were going well for Manny, but it would not last for long. Going into the 1999-2000 season, Manny spent much of his time on the 4th line. After 27 games without a single point and a -6 plus/minus, Malhotra suffered the indignity of being sent back to his minor league team.
When asked about the young center, coach John Muckler belittled the expectations and stated “he’d be nothing more than a third line center”. Although he tried to defend his comment later, the damage was already done.
The Rangers were rupturing with a growing divide evident between the GM and coach, which eventually would cost both of them their jobs.
So dawned the Glen Sather age, and a chance for everyone to start afresh. The young man from Mississauga would be given another chance, though once again the Rangers failed him. Going into camp as a Center, Malhotra was told towards the end of the pre-season that he would need to make the switch to left wing and that he would learn the position while playing in Hartford. Frustration was evident, as Manny questioned the Rangers brass for the first time publicly.
Though he would spend time down in Hartford, he eventually would return to the Rangers, initially as the fourth line center (where he languished for a time once again), but finally to the left wing of one of the greatest centers of all time in Mark Messier. It was here that it appeared, that Malhotra was beginning to get back on track.
An independent observer might look at Manny today, and see a young 20 year old, who still plays a little tentatively. A kid who is intelligent, well-meaning and enthusiastic, but has lacked the care and guidance to allow him to bring out his full ability. A pessimist might react and quote statistics from his former years and demand how anyone could have thought this guy to be a franchise a player, but in the end as always, only time will tell.
Going into this season, Manny has plenty to prove. If he’s given the opportunity, perhaps he can overcome his developmental obstacles and turn into the player we as fans hoped. Perhaps more than anyone, Malhotra will be judged by the success of the team this year, his success in his career could well be tied to the success of the team.
Good Luck Manny….