Some people credit the NY Rangers resurgence in the NHL last year to the dominating play of Jaromir Jagr or the stellar goaltending by rookie Henruk Lundqvist and while both of those players were significant factors I think they are over looking another key player. Marek Malik.
Most people don’t really know much about Malik other than that amazing goal he scored last year in the longest shootout of the year. But he provided the Rangers much more than that. Malik is very underrated defenseman because shootout goals aside he is predominantly a defensive defenseman. He has developed into one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL but doesn’t get recognized as such.
The +/- statistic isn’t the best statistic in the world because it is very dependent on ones teammates but it can be helpful in getting an idea of how good a player is defensively. This is especially true if trends can be seen from year to year. In the case of Malik this is true. Last year Malik posted a very respectable +28 good for 15th in the NHL while his defense partner Michal Roszival let the league with a +35. In 2003-04 with Vancouver Malik led the entire NHL with a +35 and in 2002-03, also with Vancouver, he was a more than respectable +20 which was good for 29th in the NHL.
Last year Malik was the Rangers top penalty killer in terms of ice time as he played 3:38 short handed per game and Malik was a big reason the Rangers PK improved from 29th in the NHL in 2003-04 to 11th in 2005-06. It is also probably no coincidence that the Rangers improved from 22nd in shots allowed in 2003-04 to 8th last year while Vancouver dropped from 12th to 16th.
All these statistics point to one thing: Malik is one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL and was a vital component of the NY Rangers turnaround season last year.