PINEVILLE When the puck drops at Time Warner Cable Arena in Saturday’s home opener against the Iowa Wild (1-1), it will mark the Checkers’ first game in two weeks.
While most players weren’t excited about the peculiar early scheduling, there was one exception in Manny Malhotra.
After signing a 25-game professional tryout agreement with the Checkers just one day prior to the start of the regular season, the veteran center has done his best to take advantage of the extra time.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise, I guess,” said Malhotra, 33, whose 2012-13 NHL season ended abruptly when he was placed on injured reserve by the Vancouver Canucks Feb. 14.
Malhotra’s move to the IR stemmed from an incident in 2011 when he was struck by a puck in the left eye. Although the full extent of the injury was not disclosed, the belief was that he no longer could safely contribute to the team.
Malhotra disagreed then – and still does.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve felt great for two years, so there’s no health issue, nothing.”
After missing all but one day of training camp, the center’s main goal has been getting his body ready for a full season of hockey.
“It has been nice being in this practice environment, around the guys, competing,” said Malhotra. “We’ve had a lot of good workdays. It’s helped me get back into game shape.”
Malhotra, who has 108 goals and 170 assists in 864 NHL games, is known around the league as an intelligent player with a strong work ethic and advanced skills in the faceoff circle.
“Right from day one he’s been out there talking to his line mates, helping centermen on faceoffs and pushing guys in practice,” said Daniels. “He’s a true pro, you can see why he’s played so many games up and why he’s so well respected.”
One Checker who has already captured Malhotra’s attention is 2011 second-round pick Victor Rask, 20, who opened the season as the Checkers’ top-line center (Malhotra has been skating on the second line).
“He’s looked impressive to me,” Malhotra said. “Only having seen him two games … he’s quite crafty. He creates a lot of opportunities.”
When the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Rask, who has played the majority of the past two seasons for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, with the 42nd overall pick, he was the 12th-ranked European skater in the draft.
With 104 points in 101 WHL games, Rask, who stands at 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, has done his part to live up to that billing. However, that hasn’t stopped him from picking up a thing or two from Malhotra.
“It’s felt good (being in Charlotte),” said Rask. “We have a lot of older guys who take good care of us – like Manny. He came in late, but he’s been great for the team and helping out with practice and everything.
“He’s experienced, so he’s definitely one of the guys that you look up to. He’s always talking in the locker room and on the ice. He’s been good for the team.”
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