Yesterday, the Nashville Predators announced the signing of free agent forward Sean Malone to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2020-21 season. After a four-year collegiate career, Malone comes from the AHL’s Rochester Americans, where he spent the last three seasons.
By The Numbers
A Buffalo native, Malone spent his pre-collegiate season with the U.S. National Team Development Program on a squad that included Jack Eichel, J.T. Compher, Dylan Larkin, Will Butcher, Michael McCarron, Alex Tuch, Kevin Labanc and Brandon Fortunato, among others.
Drafted 159th overall in 2013 by Buffalo, Malone headed to Harvard University, where he scored 99 points in 115 games across four seasons before earning an entry-level contract in 2017. The center picked up a one-year deal once his ELC expired in 2018, but disappointed with just 13 points in 38 games for Rochester that year.
Playing on an AHL contract last season, Malone finished 20th among all DY+7 year forwards (seven years since their first season of draft eligibility), with 0.3103 primary points at even strength per game. His 30 total points in 58 games came from shooting just 1.67 shots per game. His 12.94% goals-for rate relative to his teammates was fourth-best among this group of forwards, too.
The Scouting Tape
Since I only caught a few Rochester games last season, I didn’t see much of Malone. But when studying his film further, I have to say I’m impressed relative to my expectations. Make no mistake, this is not much of an NHL-level signing, but I think Malone has the skill set to fit in seamlessly at center for Milwaukee.
Malone (#17, white) is a tenacious forechecker. He doesn’t possess elite-level speed but he’s got a solid accelerating gear to his game that allows him to cover all three zones with good pace. In the clip above, I like the puck support he gives to the play, first attacking along the boards then shifting to that support position as the puck moves across the zone. His positioning allows him to apply further pressure to the Binghamton defender, forcing a giveaway, before he shifts into excellent shooting position and buries an easy goal.
Malone’s pace helps in transition too, as he’s fairly adept at using his good puck skills at high speed. In the play above, he takes advantage of a broken play and uses two rapid crossover steps to break into a full leg extension and navigate around two opposing players. Once he enters the zone, he utilizes that stickhandling skill to let the play develop before assisting on a shot attempt.
During this four-on-four play, Malone displays a good bit of skill to capitalize on a breakaway.
I really like this shift from start to finish for Malone. As the Belleville puck carrier enters the zone, he works well with his teammate to seal off any path forward forcing a turnover. Malone then turns up ice quickly joining the offensive rush as F2, constantly moves himself to open space, and orchestrates an odd-man rush before executing an excellent primary assist.
In the defensive zone, Malone is disciplined and useful. He clearly sees the ice well and understands how plays develop, including simple plays like his touch in the corner to advance the puck up to his teammate. Better yet, as the puck moves to the neutral zone, I love the minor step he has on the play shifting laterally across the ice. He reads opponents’ decisions well and is able to pressure them into decisions faster.
Malone was also a key piece of a Rochester penalty kill that finished ninth in the league with an 83.5% success rate. The Americans run a “Triangle + 1” penalty kill, which you’ll notice as Malone, or the other forward, alternate swinging towards the puck and away from the set piece. Malone’s lateral speed and acceleration from crossover steps helps him succeed in this set and, ultimately, leads to shorthanded goals as seen above.
It seems clear Milwaukee envisions Malone line up at center behind Tommy Novak and Michael McCarron next season. He plays a nice complement to the style of the Admirals’ scoring threats at even strength and should be a solid special teams player too.
Malone’s one-year deal comes with a $750K salary at the NHL level and a $100K salary at the AHL level. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.
More notably, Malone’s signing indicates both Frédérick Gaudreau and Daniel Carr are likely gone after this season. Provided Michael McCarron, Rem Pitlick and Anthony Richard (all RFAs) are back next season, Milwaukee’s roster will sit at 14 forwards—not including Yakov Trenin and Colin Blackwell.