TAMPA — When he’s on the ice, Ryan Malone’s presence is felt.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger uses his size to win battles in the corners and provides a true power forward presence. Opponents have a difficult time moving him from the front of the net, especially on the power play.
His problem is staying on the ice long enough for the Lightning to benefit from what he can do.
Injury plagued since arriving from Pittsburgh in a trade prior to the 2008-09 season, Malone is yet to appear in more than 85 percent of the team’s games. Malone appeared in 70, 69, 54 and 68 games in each of four full seasons with Tampa Bay, plus 24 of 48 games last season.
“It’s been very frustrating; you want to be out there helping and any time you are not, it’s very frustrating,’’ Malone said. “So, this summer it was important for me to stay focused with my training to be able to last a full season. That would be nice.’’
Some of that training goes beyond the normal routine for Malone, who now incorporates yoga into his workouts. He has also begun to utilize Functional Movement Screening, which essentially studies athletes and grades their movement patterns to identify functional limitations and asymmetries.
The yoga has helped Malone with his flexibility, while the FMS allows a more detailed workout routine to keep everything in line.
“It helps balance the body out, and with the injuries I’ve had the body always compensates and gets things out of whack,” Malone said. “So, it was just preparing me for 82 games. It’s a lot about injury prevention, and that helped a lot. It’s different training than I’m used to, but I definitely see better results than I have in previous summers.’’
Despite missing 25 percent of the games in the past five years, Malone has been able to produce, reaching the 20-goal mark three times.
“To watch him play down low, he’s one of those rare guys who is big, strong and powerful and has really good hands,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s got a knack around the net and it will be our job to make sure the blue paint is his home.
“If he does that, he can have a successful season.’’
Beyond Malone, the Lightning don’t have much size among their forwards. When he’s not in the lineup, it affects the team.
“We need to have that, the role he plays, the presence he has,” veteran Marty St. Louis said. “He needs to be healthy to fill that role. The kind of game he plays in the paint, he’s a presence at the net. When he’s not healthy, he just can’t do it. ...It’s imperative to our success.’’
Perhaps that’s a big reason Malone is still with the team despite plenty of offseason speculation he was a potential buyout or trade target. Malone has two years left on a seven-year deal that will pay him $2.5 million each of the next two seasons, although he carries a salary cap hit of $4.5 million.
While Malone had a full no-movement clause in his contract for the first five years, it is now a modified no-trade clause for the final two years. When the it kicked on Sept. 1, he submitted to general manager Steve Yzerman a list of 12 teams to which he would accept a trade.
But moving elsewhere is not on his mind.
“I talked to Steve and he said injuries happen, so I just needed to get ready for the season,’’ Malone said. “He thinks I can help the team out here, and that was kind of it. And the one (trade) rumor, the reporter actually called me to apologize. So, overall talking to Steve, I thought I was OK, but rumors start going and you don’t really know.
“For the most part I was just concentrating on getting healthy, and whatever happens, happens. I want to be in Tampa and want to prove that I belong here.