TAMPA — Let's not mince words, Lightning left wing Ryan Malone said when discussing last season.
"An awful year," he declared.
It is hard to argue that. Hurt most of the season, Malone played just 24 games and scored just six goals, the nadir of his five seasons with Tampa Bay that have been constantly marked by time lost to injury.
And that puts the gritty Malone — always considered a heart-and-soul kind of player — in the unfamiliar position during training camp of having to re-establish his bona fides to not only a new coaching staff but his teammates.
It is a story line coach Jon Cooper will follow closely as the team hits the ice for the first time today at the Tampa Bay Times Forum because, as he said, "If we're going to have success, we're going to need Ryan Malone."
At 6 feet 4, 219 pounds, Malone, 33, plays the kind of game every team covets: in front of the net, physical and with a scoring touch that has produced six 20-goal seasons in a nine-season career.
He has three 20-goal seasons with Tampa Bay but never has played more than 70 games.
In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he missed 24 of the 48 games because of a lower-body injury sustained during a pregame soccer kick-around and a separated left shoulder caused by an unnecessary hit by Flyers pest Zac Rinaldo.
"I don't need to elaborate on that," Malone said of the hit. "It all works itself out later."
But he does need to prove he can be counted on during the long haul of an 82-game season. Toward that end, he included yoga in his summer workouts.
"It's more about functional movement," he said, "not just the conventional 'get in the gym and see how much weight you can lift.' It's being balanced and feeling good, strong and getting back to being able to move efficiently."
Asked if he has considered toning down the physical play to give his body a break, Malone said no.
"I'm always going to go out there and finish my checks and stick up for my teammates," he said. "That's something I'll do until my career is over."
On the other hand, he can't do that if he is watching from the press box.
"He just has to stay healthy," center Steven Stamkos said. "I tell people all the time, if he's healthy, I have no problem seeing him as a 30-goal guy who can dominate down low and be a physical presence and an intimidating factor."
"When he's healthy, he's that rare breed of size, strength and talent," Cooper said. "When he's rolling, it's great to see."
Malone apparently is ready to show what he can do.
He is in terrific shape, is motivated — not being invited to last month's U.S. Olympic team tryout camp had to hurt; he was on the 2010 team — and, frankly, tired of feeling he could be doing more for the Lightning.
"It's very frustrating," Malone said. "You don't want to play like that or be injured. All you can do is prepare for another year. That's why I said I'm excited to go out there and prove myself again.
"I feel the best I have, and that's a good start."