Alex Mallet needs to get back to driving to the net in Kalamazoo. (Photo: Chris Jerina/AHL in Photos)
Alex Mallet is off to Kalamazoo. The young Quebecer, a quintessential ‘off-the-board’ draft pick, was always going to be a project. Between the Wolves’ lockout-bloated squad and the rawness of his skills, Mallet has struggled to get icetime and what little he’s had, he’s done little to stand out in a crowd.
But it’s not like he’s the first to have struggled to step up after gaining attention as a late-bloomer; Darren Archibald found the same challenges in his first professional season, just last year.
During the Wolves’ road trip to Abbotsford in October, Mallet said he hoped to gain the confidence of the coaches.
"I hope that I can prove myself as a scorer and on defence," he said at the time.
"I need give the coaches a reason to keep trusting me," he said.
With such a competitive roster, that was always going to be a challenge.
A year-and-a-half ago, Darren Archibald came on strong at the tail end of his junior career. All of a sudden he went from OHL overager to AHL prospect and he struggled to keep up. Even though he scored the Wolves’ first goal of the year, his ice time slid and by the end of November, he wasn’t even dressing. A demotion to Kalamazoo came not long after.
The ECHL suited him well, though. He found his scoring touch and obviously worked hard on his skating. Skating was held up as the reason he was never drafted, even as he showed a scoring touch. Without the puck, it wasn’t much of a problem, but learning to pull away from defenders while he had the puck? That remained an issue. Archibald started this season back in Kalamazoo, but was recalled a week ago and now has 10 shots in 3 games and has his second and third career AHL goals to boot.
At first blush, Archibald would look to be back on the ladder.
Scouts see Mallet’s challenges as not far off from Archibald’s. With a strength born from physical maturity, neither player is easy to knock off the puck; but looking like you are stuck in neutral is an easy thing to happen in the AHL. Everyone can skate there, after all.
Mallet moving down to Kalamazoo may seem to be a set back, but he’s had the chance to see what it will take to succeed in the AHL. Working to get back there is as good a motivator as any. He’ll also get icetime, something that was never going to be easy to find in Chicago.
In his profile of Mallet this summer, Jeff Angus highlighted Laurence Gilman’s comments about Mallet’s development curve. He’s a player who’s ‘figured it out’ later than most, but that suggests a maturity in Mallet that seemed evident at the beginning of the season. He’s learned what it means to be good. (It should be noted that Mallet was a vastly improved player in his second season in the Q as a regular).
The simple fact is that Mallet has just 4 shots in 13 games. That shows us that he’s not getting much ice time and that what little ice time he’s getting, he’s not seeing the net all that often and he’s certainly not using those chances to shoot.
At this summer’s prospects camp. Mallet was a standout performer, winning puck battles all over the place and driving to the net with confidence. He needs to re-find that element of his game and adapt it to the professional ranks.