Monday, August 10th 1998, 2:05AM

He is clearly and undeniably his parents' son. Anybody who knows Manny Malhotra can attest to that.

His devotion to his religion and natural inclination to lead as well as serve are obvious reflections of his mother, Lise. His logical mind and reverence for education can be traced directly to his father, Shadi.

Of course, he's also his own man. Because there is nobody on either side of his family who handed down the superior ability to skate, shoot and pass that made him a prized hockey prospect and the Rangers' first selection (No. 7 overall) in the June 27 NHL entry draft.

But then, those physical tools aren't the traits that even hockey people mention first when raving about Malhotra which just about everybody in the game does. Go back to the gifts he received from his mom and dad for that.

"He is respectful and has humility beyond his years," said E.J. McGuire, the head coach of the Rangers' minor league team and Malhotra's junior coach for a year at Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League.

"I really believe he can play for our team this year and I've never said that about any 18-year-old we've drafted before," said Rangers president Neil Smith. "It's because of his body he's 6-1, 210 pounds and physically mature. And his mentality he plays the game like a veteran NHL player. And because of the manner in which he behaves like an adult.

"I've drafted a lot of players. You talk to some 18-year-olds and they seem like they're 14. Manny seems like he's 28."

Thank Lise and Shadi for that.

Born in a small town that was then part of India but became part of Pakistan, Shadi Malhotra emigrated to Canada to pursue his education. He met Lise, a native of Quebec, when both were working toward doctorates in chemistry at the University of Laval.

They married and began a family that would number four children three boys and a girl. Manny was the youngest, born in 1980, after the Malhotras had moved from Quebec to Mississauga, Ontario. It was there that Shadi put his Ph.D. to work for Xerox and Lise decided to forego her own career as a research chemist to establish a Catholic ministry with a chapel in their garage.

As long as Manny can remember, religion and education were his family's passions. Catholicism took precedence over his father's Hindu faith simply because religion was more central to his mother's life.

"I think what I learned from my mother, basically, were just good values," Malhotra said. "Every day, she taught us values and morals to live by.

"My dad? I guess he was kind of the teacher. He was always trying to give us advice and life lessons and we learned a lot from him."

The combination produced four bright, well-adjusted children who excelled in school and easily made friends.

If they ever faced any repercussions from those who objected to the union of their French Canadian mother and Indian father, their healthy self-esteem and infectious personalities inevitably won them over.

Even in the historically provincial world of hockey, in which merely being of French descent has subjected players to slurs, Malhotra insists that he has rarely experienced any problems because of the color of his skin.

"At times I heard things, because, for the most part, I played with almost entirely white kids on my team," Malhotra said. "But I never really felt out of place because I always made friends and it was more a matter of just proving myself as a player."

Which Malhotra always managed to do. That and instantly emerge as a locker room leader.

"I think it did help that I'm not one to be shy in a group," he said.

Instantly recognizing his leadership skills, his youth coaches invariably assigned him both the captaincy of their teams and the most important on-ice role. He responded by playing his best hockey in the most pressurized situations like when he captained Canada to the under-18 World Championship last winter or when he scored 19 points in 15 postseason games during the 1998 Memorial Cup, the Canadian junior hockey championship tournament.

That playoff performance probably solidified Malhotra's position as a consensus top 10 pick in the NHL entry draft. He had spent the regular season scoring only 16 goals with 28 assists in 61 games while being named OHL Scholastic Player of the Year, it should be noted because he was used in a defensive role to shut down opposing stars.

But then, it is just that defensive ability that in October is most likely to win him a place on the Rangers' roster as a rare 18-year-old in the NHL. And it was just the kind of team-first attitude that he displayed in his draft-eligible season that alerted scouts to the character that makes him special.

Character that led Smith to predict: "He'll be a captain in the NHL some day."

His mother describes it this way: "His is a character that cares. He does everything in a great way. When he plays hockey, he plays hockey with a passion that is his whole being. But when he dines with us, he dines with us."

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