The first gem to emerge from the NHL Entry Draft? Try center Manny Malhotra, the seventh overall pick who is a good bet to start the season with the New York Rangers.
"I think he's ready to play in the NHL," Rangers coach John Muckler said Thursday. "I don't know what kind of numbers he'll put up. He's only 18. But he's awfully good."
That's bad news for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, for whom Malhotra had 16 goals and 35 assists in 57 games last season. The Storm was probably counting on having Malhotra back for at least one more season.
It is rare for 18 year olds -- other than the top one or two draft picks -- to jump directly to the NHL. But Muckler said Malhotra's play in training camp left him little choice.
"He has character and he's very knowledgeable for 18," Muckler said. "He reads the play well, he's strong and he's a good skater. We know he's 18 and you can't expect too much. There will be times when we'll have to take the pressure off him."
Malhotra was born and raised in the Toronto area. His mother is from Quebec City and he speaks very good French. His father, a chemistry professor, met his mother while teaching at Laval University.
"I try not to look at myself as having made the team," said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Malhotra, who played for Canada at last winter's world junior championship. "This is still training camp.
"A lot still has to be said about my ability to stand the strain of travel and playing every night in the NHL. So far, I've done OK as far as showing what I can do on the ice."
It is a year of heavy turnover on the Rangers, who missed the playoffs last season. Muckler said up to 11 new faces could start in New York this season.
"I know there's an opportunity for a center (to make the team)," said Malhotra. "And I know there's a lot of young centers in the system. I'm not taking anything for granted. We'll see after they make the final cuts."
Joe Nieuwendyk has made a quick recovery from surgery, but he's not going to rush back into game action.
The Dallas Stars' center had reconstructive surgery on both knees during the summer and is skatng, but isn't expected to be in the starting lineup for the team's NHL season opener Oct. 10 against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
"We're going to allow Joe to play when Joe's ready to play and it's safe for Joe to play," says team trainer Dave Surprenant. "That's a very gray area right now because we can't say that he's any better on a Wednesday than he is on a Tuesday."
Ottawa defenseman Janne Laukkanen, who had abdominal surgery last month, has been given clearance to begin riding a stationary bike beginning next week.
Cycling and swimming will be the only training exercises he's allowed for the next three weeks. He won't be ready to play again before December.
Swedish right wing Marcus Nilson, 20, Florida's first pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, has won a lineup spot with the Panthers.
"He's got hands, he's got vision, and he's a playmaker," says Panthers general manager Bryan Murray. "He's a natural as far as positioning himself and defensively, for such a young player, he's outstanding."
Washington center Jan Bulis will miss four to six weeks with a sprained left ankle suffered in a Tuesday night exhibition game when he was dragged into the boards by Philadelphia defenseman Dmitri Tertyshny.
Detroit forward Doug Brown enjoyed the experiment in which the center red line was removed for the Red Wings' exhibition game Wednesday night. Why not? He scored a goal.
"I think it will open up the game a little bit," Brown said. "I like it. A lot of players found themselves in different positions all over the ice."
Also, Jamie Macoun has a badly sprained wrist and won't be fit to be in Detroit's opening-night lineup.
Defenseman Mark Visheau has been the biggest surprise of the Los Angeles Kings' camp, says general manager Dave Taylor.
Visheau, 25, played one NHL game in 1994 with Winnipeg and has since played in the AHL, ECHL and IHL. He was with the IHL's Milwaukee Admirals last season.
Unfortunately for Visheau, he dislocated his left thumb in a fight with Anaheim's Stu Grimson this week.
Right wing Frank Banham has impressed Anaheim coach Craig Hartsburg.
Banham, 23, split last season between the Mighty Ducks and their Cincinnati AHL farm club. He had nine goals in 21 games with the parent club. In 1995-96, he scored 83 goals in 72 WHL games with Saskatoon.
"He's been a scorer all his life," says Hartsburg. "He's got to contine to work at (the defensive) part of the game. It's not like he hasn't worked at it. It's not just defense he has to work on, but any time he doesn't have the puck."
Banham is battling Johan Davidsson, Mike Leclerc, Josef Marha, Jeff Nielsen and Jeremy Stevenson for a spot on the roster for the Oct. 10 opener against Washington.
Although center Mark Bell was returned by Chicago to his Ottawa junior club, he left an impression with the Blackhawks. He was the team's first-round draft pick last June.
"He's going to be a good NHL player," said veteran center Doug Gilmour. "I was impressed."
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