Two years after taking a puck to the eye and one year after the Vancouver Canucks said it wasn’t safe for him to play, Manny Malhotra is again dominating faceoff circles in the NHL. But it’s been a long road back.
After the Canucks sat Malhotra out most of last season and let his contract expire in the summer, the Carolina Hurricanes took a flier and gave him a tryout with their American League affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. Malhotra made the roster and turned that into a pro contract with Carolina.
“Having the opportunity to come back to the NHL is incredible,” Malhotra said. “I’ve never taken a day for granted in this league and when you get the opportunity to continue your career you’re very thankful for it.”
Malhotra was hit in the left eye by a puck Mar. 16, 2011, while playing for the Canucks. The injury cost him much of the vision in his eye and forced him to miss most of Vancouver’s run to the Stanley Cup final. He was back with the team for 2011-12, but in a reduced role because management felt he wasn’t the same player after the injury.
Malhotra renewed his commitment to training prior to 2012-13, but he appeared in just nine games for the Canucks before GM Mike Gillis put him on injured reserve, saying it wasn’t safe for him to play in the NHL.
“We felt strongly last year that there was a risk with him out on the ice,” Gillis said at a press conference Feb. 14, 2013. “I wasn’t prepared to live with that.”
But Malhotra wasn’t ready to let the injury end his career.
“It was obviously very frustrating to me, after so many years, being told you’re not allowed to do what you love to do,” Malhotra said. “I didn’t agree at all with Mike’s comments and how he saw what I was doing out there.”
Malhotra joined the Hurricanes in November and has been a regular ever since, centering the fourth line, eating up valuable shorthanded minutes and continuing his faceoff dominance. He said the eye injury hasn’t affected his approach to taking draws and the numbers bear that out. At the halfway mark of the season, Malhotra ranked top-five in the league in faceoff winning percentage, hovering around the 60-percent mark.
“I’m feeling more confident. I’m feeling more like myself now,” Malhotra said. “I keep repeating to myself, I feel ‘normal’ again.”