There is no plan B for James Malm.
In his eyes, the one and only goal is sticking with the Vancouver Giants for the 2015-16 hockey season.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” said the 16-year-old about where he would play should he fail to land a roster spot with the major junior hockey club.
“I am just working day-to-day, trying to get better and learn from the older guys on the team.”
Malm was a second round pick of the Giants in the 2014 WHL bantam draft and this is the first year he is eligible to play in the league.
He is among 14 forwards still on the roster. But while a few cuts may be made this week, it’s expected Malm will be in the lineup Friday when the Giants begin regular season play with a home game against the defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets.
Malm played the start of his minor hockey with the Langley Minor Hockey Association before switching to the Burnaby Winter Club.
And so far, he is showing that he belongs at the highest level of junior hockey in Canada.
“First and foremost, he had a tremendous rookie camp — he led in almost every category offensively and carried that right into main camp,” said Giants coach Lorne Molleken.
“He is a skilled player who plays extremely well in tight areas or traffic areas.
“The physical play through training camp never seemed to bother him.”
Malm, a five-foot-nine, 180-pound forward, scored twice in preseason play and didn’t look out of place in a league for 16 to 20-year-olds.
“Just stepping on the ice and feeling the speed of the guys, that has probably been my biggest eye-opener so far,” said Malm, who scored the first goal for the Giants in a 5-4 win over the Kelowna Rockets in a preseason game last Friday at the Langley Events Centre (LEC).
Malm is used to lighting up the scoreboard at the LEC, the home rink of the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League’s Valley West Hawks.
He led the Hawks last season with 20 goals and 66 points in 31 games, finishing second in the league scoring race by one point, despite playing seven fewer games than the winner.
Offence has never been a problem for Malm, a gifted playmaker forward.
The question is how he will do against older and tougher competition.
“Right now we are just watching to see if he can handle the pace of the game and to make sure he is strong enough to play at the Western Hockey League level, and to this point, he has done a tremendous job,” Molleken said.
This is the coach’s first year behind the Giants bench but he remembers Malm from watching him during bantam leading up to the draft when Molleken was a coach with the Saskatoon Blades.
“The puck just seemed to follow him around the ice, so what that tells me is that he puts himself in proper position all the time to get the puck back or put himself in a position to check a guy to try and get it back,” Molleken recalled.
“He is no different than any other younger guy in that he needs to learn how to play away from the puck a little bit.”
Malm is confident in whatever role the team needs.
“I just want to come in and be an energy guy,” he said.
“Try and put up points, but that is really hard to do at this level, especially as a 16-year-old.
“I just want to come in and work my hardest and see where it goes.”
He is also hoping to use the experience he gained last month to his advantage.
Malm was invited to a Hockey Canada U17 development camp in Calgary, one of several age-group evaluation camps held at the same time.
“It was unbelievable; I just learned so much,” he said.
“Talking to some of the guys that played on the world junior team, them talking about their experiences with Hockey Canada, was amazing.
“It really prepared me for playing on the Giants so far.”
– Two Surrey residents who have also played for the Valley West Hawks are on the 25-man Giants roster. Matt Barberis, who attended the Giants camp a year ago as a 16 year-old, is one of nine defencemen with the team. Barberis led all defencemen in scoring in the Major Midget League last season with 13 goals and 40 assists in 35 games played.
Jakob Stukel scored 30 goals and 43 points for the Hawks as a 15-year-old in the 2012-13 season. Last year, he played 49 games with the WHL’s Giants, scoring five times and collecting 16 points.
The Giants are at home in the Pacific Coliseum for their first two games of the season this weekend. They host the Seattle Thunderbirds at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, and on Sunday at 6 p.m. the defending WHL champion Rockets are the visitors.