After the New York Rangers yeileded their No. 1 amateur draft choice to Philadelphia to settle Coach Fred Shero's contract obligation, there was little expectation of drafting a superior talent last June.
In the second round, however, on the 26th selection, after Washington had pitched four players, the Rangers were able to secure left wing Don Maloney, who just happened to be the brother of the Rangers' fine young defenseman, Dave Maloney.
In his minal season with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey Association, Don Maloney had collected only 30 goals, but the Rangers were impressed by his 74 assists and Shero recalled that "we were lucky to get him that late in the draft. Our scouts had him rated much higher."
Perhaps Washington should kidnap one of those Ranger scouts, because Don Maloney right now looks like the best first-year player in the NHL. His path has not been smooth and he will not be among the leaders in the rookie of the year voting, but the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Maloney has arrived.
In each of the first two games Stanley Cup quarterfinal series against Philadelphia, which resumes tonight in New York, Maloney was one of the three stars, and those selections were made at the Spectrum by Philadelphia writers.
During Monday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Fyers, Maloney scored one Ranger goal and set up Phil Esposito for the other with a perfect pass. On Wednesday, as the Rangers evened the series in a 7-1 rout, Maloney scored again and twice made sharp passes that teammates converted into goals. There was no better player on either team.
Except for one early season NHL game, Maloney toiled for New Haven in the American League until Feb. 14, when he joined the Rangers, was placed on a line with Esposito and Don Murdoch, and scored a goal on his first NHL shot.
Playing 28 games with New York, he recorded nine goals and 17 assists. His digging in the corners proved such a welcome catalyst to his linemates' talents that the trio collected 18 goals and 22 assists in one 11-game stretch.
"With him as my left wing, I might play until I'm 50," said Esposito, a suddenly youthful 37.
Maloney returned that praise, crediting Esposito and brother Dave with his sudden success in the NHL.
"Phil and my brother have been the biggest help," Don Maloney said. "Anything I do wrong, Phil points out to me, and anything I do right he encourages me."
As for Dave Maloney, the Rangers' youngest-ever captain at 22, he was seen Wednesday talking to Don during a television timeout, and he had a most attentive audience.
"Dave was almost like an idol to me when we were kids," Don said. "He was always an inspiration to me and he's a big reason why i'm here today."
Another big reason is his talent.
"His strength is in the corners," Shero said. "He's continually controlling the puck and coming up with it. He should have been up here long before he was, but every time we wanted to bring him up, he wast hurt."
"I kept getting minor injuries, but I think it worked out for the best," Maloney said. "I learned a lot in the American League and I got a chance to play. I wasn't ready for the NHL and the guys down there helped me a lot. I think I matured, too.
"And it was good to ride the buses for a while. Things are so much better up here, it's a first-class operation, and once you're here you want to work hard to stay here."
While the Rangers and Flyers resume the only divided series, the New York Islanders will try to make it three in a row at Chicago tonight, following their 1-0 success Wednesday on Mike Bossy's overtime goal.
The other quarterfinals are dormant until Saturday, for television purposes. Boston leading 2-0, will be at Pittsburgh in the afternoon (WDCA-TV 20 at 1 p.m.), while Montreal, also two up, visits Toronto for the traditional Hockey Night in Canada telecast.