DES MOINES, Iowa -- When Ryan Malone began his professional hockey comeback a few months back, he envisioned the likelihood he'd be right where he is right now, playing for the Iowa Wild.
After a few weeks in central Iowa, Malone says he's content.
While the initial reason for returning to pro hockey was to pursue one final Olympic Games, it didn't take long for the competitor in Malone to shine through. After a day or two of believing he was content with a trip to the American Hockey League, Malone decided one final crack at the NHL would be his ultimate goal at training camp.
And although he didn't reach that goal -- at least not yet -- Malone is enjoying himself in Des Moines as he aims for a trip to PyeongChang in February.
In the meantime, Malone has established himself quickly as a favorite both inside the dressing room and with Iowa fans.
"I'm fortunate enough to sit beside him in the locker room," said Wild forward Zack Mitchell, who has been shuffling between Iowa and Minnesota early this season. "I'm kind of a quiet guy, but I love listening to him talk. He's always going on about something. We're really lucky to have him. He's just the kind of guy you want to have on your team."
Malone developed a relationship with many of his new teammates over the last month while participating in Minnesota's training camp. As one of the last cuts from main camp, Malone played in a handful of preseason games and earned the praise of teammates and coaches with the NHL club.
After being sent to Iowa, Malone took less than a game to become a fan favorite.
In the season opener against Milwaukee, Admirals forward Andrew O'Brien and rookie Wild forward Luke Kunin began jawing moments after a faceoff.
Malone had none of that.
The veteran forward stepped in front of Kunin and confronted O'Brien. Gloves flew off and punches were thrown, with O'Brien on the business end of several solid blows.
Both were escorted to their benches, where the 10,000 fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines roared their approval of Malone.
The following night, Malone answered the bell again, fighting Admirals tough guy Cody Bass, more than holding his own.
"It's part of hockey. It's the way I was taught by [former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate] Gary Roberts, back in the day, you've gotta stick together," Malone said. "My dad taught me sometimes it's not about whether you win or lose; you've gotta show up."
Malone has certainly done that, and slowly but surely the offense has followed. After going without a point in his first three games, he dished out his first assist against Rockford on Oct. 14.
With Malone out of competitive hockey since the 2014-15 season, a slow start -- at least offensively -- was expected. Where he hasn't been lacking is in the leadership department. And at a level of hockey that is as much about player development as anything else, his experience is invaluable for younger players in the dressing room.
"It's very important, especially for the young guys, coming in and playing their first or second year pro," Mitchell said. "Just having great guys to lead you like that, it can do wonders for your career."
"Everyone is eager to learn, eager to get better and it's an exciting time for Iowa, being the fifth year [the franchise has been located] down here. The goal is obviously to get to the playoffs, and it's a process," Malone said. "Obviously, there's some stuff to work on. We just gotta stick together and grow together."