One of the biggest risers in the 2019 NHL draft class has been Youngstown Phantoms center Jack Malone. He was always known as a strong, hardworking player, but he’s now added a new level of offensive creativity to his game. “He’s a 200-foot cerebral player,” said coach Brad Patterson. “He’s got an elite hockey IQ, and he’s a tremendous athlete. When you mix everything together, you see the benefits every time he’s on the ice. He’s been huge for us this year.”
And Malone’s development has been steady. Originally from California, Malone and his family moved to New Jersey when he was six. Season tickets to the Devils gave him a steady dose of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Sidney Crosby (Auston Matthews is his new fave) and Malone fell in love with hockey. The youngster was also an excellent shortstop, playing baseball until Grade 7.
In high school, Malone played for Delbarton, a traditional New Jersey powerhouse that other schools always want to dethrone. “We definitely had a target on our backs,” Malone said. “They looked at our game as a championship game and we took that as a challenge.”
Malone jumped up to the USHL last season, and the level of older, stronger, faster competition was an eye-opener. As Patterson noted, the young center also had to accept that he wouldn’t be getting the same amount of ice time as he did at Delbarton, but Malone was an apt pupil. Like many rookies in junior leagues, Malone really found his feet after Christmas last season. “It’s a big jump,” said Malone, who’s a potential second-rounder in the 2019 draft. “It definitely took awhile to get acclimated to that type of play, but once you get used to it and get that confidence, it’s a game-changer.”
This season, Malone has become an integral part of the Youngstown attack, averaging more than a point per game after tallying 14 points in 52 games as a rookie. With Malone ascending and linemate Brett Murray (a Buffalo Sabres prospect) one of the highest scorers in the league, the Phantoms were one of the first USHL squads to clinch a playoff berth and are a title contender.
Malone, 18, also got his first international experience, helping Team USA win gold at the World Jr. A Challenge in Alberta. If all goes according to plan, he’ll head to Cornell next season. In the meantime, he needs to work on shooting the puck more, and his current bench boss sees a player whose personality is still coming out. “He’s quiet by nature,” Patterson said. “Guys really respect anything he says, so he could take more ownership in a leadership role, but he’s still pretty young. I see him developing in that area.”
Considering the leaps he has made elsewhere, it’s only a matter of time for Malone.