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'Pressure Is a Privilege': Abbotsford Head Coach Manny Malhotra Embraces High Expectations for AHL Development

June 4, 2024 - American Hockey League (AHL)
Abbotsford Canucks News Release

Manny Malhotra was 60 seconds removed from a call with Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet when he hopped on the line to chat about his new role as the head coach of the Abbotsford Canucks.

"He's a 'what you see is what you get' kind of guy and is deeply passionate about the game," said Malhotra about Tocchet. "He loves the game, loves his players, and wants to see them be successful."

Tocchet let Malhotra know that his phone is always open for a call and that there is an elevated level of expectation for development at the AHL level from this current Canucks management team.

"Tocc was expressing how well the Abbotsford-Vancouver connection is working in the short time that he's been with the Canucks. I'm looking forward to working with Tocc and picking his brain on the way he sees the game. You can see their level of play is just the way the game is going, and I want to learn how he got them to buy into that system," said Malhotra.

After an NHL career that spanned 16 seasons and saw 991 games played, Malhotra moved into a development role with the Vancouver Canucks before the 2016-17 season. He moved on to be an assistant coach with the Canucks from 2017-2020 and then took on a role with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant coach from 2020-2024.

"Having been an assistant for years now; learning from different coaches, seeing things that work and don't work - I feel that it is time to implement those things and run my own shop and take that next step in my career," said Malhotra. "So obviously, coming to an organization that I'm familiar with makes things a lot easier and knowing the people that I get a chance to work with makes it exciting. I am really looking forward to it."

Two of the people Malhotra is familiar with are Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The two Hall of Famers spend plenty of time out in Abbotsford working on a variety of developmental projects. They have committed a lot of their time to making the Canucks' AHL-NHL pipeline strong and we are beginning to see the work show up at the NHL level - Arshdeep Bains, Linus Karlsson, and Nils Höglander being a couple of examples this past season.

Malhotra will be running his shop which features many young players.

Elias Pettersson, Kirill Kudryavtsev, Josh Bloom, Aätu Räty, Danila Klimovich, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and Ty Mueller are all examples of players who are 21 or younger and will be in the most important developmental years of their young hockey careers.

There are also plenty of 22 to 25-year-olds who are on the brink of getting their first chance at the NHL level or potentially even earning a full-time job at the NHL level if the scenario arises.

Malhotra believes that these young players take the next step in their game once they understand the life that comes with being a pro player. He calls it 'learned behaviour' and that it's about having a dedicated focus instead of just showing up for practice time. These players have skill, but a focus of Malhotra's is going to be showing these players the way that will not only get them to the NHL but be able to stay there once they make it.

"My mantra for myself for my team, especially a young team, is the mindset of, we got to be better than yesterday and just focus on daily improvements as a group. For me, that goes a long way. That means your practice habits get better, the intensity gets sharper, and you're better from one game to the next. If you have that mentality of incrementally getting better on a daily basis, over the course of time, that results in some major achievements and major differences in your team," he said.

Taking a wider lens on the AHL situation, Malhotra is excited about the augmented expectations and higher pressure that is coming from management for success in their AHL development. He takes it on as a privilege to be trusted to work with these young players in achieving their goals.

"First off, pressure is a privilege. For me personally, it would not be fun if there was no pressure involved. If there was no mandate to be successful or no mandate to produce players and help players get to that next level. It wouldn't be fun for me. I feel a great level of gratitude and am very thankful that they trusted me enough to be a part of it. I know how important the AHL development piece is for the organization and for them to entrust me with that, I take a lot of pride in that," Malhotra said.

"So, right from there, it makes me want to be successful and that makes me want to prove to them that they were right with their decision. I want to help this organization continue down that path of developing young players and getting them in uniforms."

Malhotra knows that the AHL can be a massive boost to an NHL team in the current salary cap era and he is excited to be a big part of the organization developing from within.

"I think the importance on AHL development is a product of the NHL cap system. You cannot just continue to sign and buy players at free agency time; you need to develop players within your system to be able to be cap-compliant and get players on a good deal at a good number. You have to be able to grow those players from within your organization. It's a product of what is necessary right now. And teams can't just go out and buy the player they want. You have to develop them from within."

Malhotra has focused on learning in his eight years of experience in development and coaching.

He believes that the individual is the focus of development but that the team helps guide an individual in the right direction.

"Everybody learns differently. It's a new generation of players in terms of the way they interpret information, the way they receive information, the way they learn. You have to be aware of your audience. And that's part of the job that I really enjoy. Learning about the guys, and learning about the individual, what makes them tick, how they learn how they understand things," said Malhotra.

"From there, I like being able to implement those things and help them understand the message, understand the system, understand what we are trying to get out of them. The biggest thing for me is just understanding the individual and you have to be able to get through on various levels."

Returning to the West Coast also works so well for Manny Malhotra.

He is comfortable with his co-workers, has learned so much about developing players in his post-playing days, has coaching experience in the NHL with Vancouver and Toronto, and is now excited about taking the reins on this next challenge and a new challenge, as a head coach in the AHL.

Aside from hockey, Malhotra is excited about going back to B.C. and named the scenery and sushi as the two things he is excited to be amongst as a British Columbian.

"It's a different vibe on the West Coast, that is for sure. I am excited for good sushi again. My family kind of became sushi snobs ever since we were living in Vancouver. I'm also excited about getting back to living that outdoorsy lifestyle. Scenery and sushi. I can't wait."

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