When the offseason began, rumours were rampant that Alex Galchenyuk was on the trading block and that GM Marc Bergevin was going to trade away another young, highly-skilled player after recent trades involving P.K. Subban and Mikhail Sergachev. While conflicting reports remain on just how available Galchenyuk really was, or even Bergevin’s asking price, one thing is for certain: If he was being shopped, the asking price was high enough that 30 general managers around the league decided to skip on the potential acquisition. This should say two things very clearly to all fans of the team. Firstly, Bergevin still believes that Galchenyuk has the skill and potential to put all the pieces together and become a special player for this team. Secondly, Bergevin may have floated Galchenyuk’s name in rumours to see if any GM would overpay for this particular player.
This should say two things very clearly to all fans of the team. Firstly, Bergevin still believes that Galchenyuk has the skill and potential to put all the pieces together and become a special player for this team. Secondly, Bergevin may have floated Galchenyuk’s name in rumours to see if any GM would overpay him. This second part is speculation but remains possible with what many are believing to be the asking price for Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. Consider the possibility of a team who could have regretfully overpaid for Galchenyuk with the frame of mind that at least they had paid less than the Duchene asking price. As mentioned though, this is all purely speculation.
What is known is that Galchenyuk eventually signed a lucrative, though relatively team friendly, bridge-deal to remain in Montreal for the next three seasons, and all fans of the club should be excited with that news. Remember, simply one year ago, this was a player who had finally turned the corner and was ready to be the long-awaited number one centre in Montreal. Therefore, Galchenyuk remains number two on my list of potential breakout candidates in 2017-2018.
The 23-year-old left winger, uh, centre, uh, winger, uhhh… who knows at this point. Regardless of his position, he had a blistering hot start to the 2016-2017 season. In the 25 games that preceded his knee injury, Galchenyuk scored 23 points, including nine goals. Projected over a full season, that’s over 70 points and 30 goals. Additionally, consider the end of the 2015-2016 campaign when Galchenyuk also scored 26 points in the final 30 games of the season. This means that over a span of 55 games, Galchenyuk scored 49 points, good for 0.9 ppg. That’s 74 points over the course of an entire season. Despite all the great stats, questions obviously remain around Galchenyuk, which is why he still fits into this breakout category instead of already being a fully recognized superstar in the league. Can he hold that pace over a prolonged period of time? Can he remain healthy? Was this stretch of production a fluke? Where does he fit on the team?
Where does Galchenyuk fit on this revamped Canadiens roster? Listening to comments made by Claude Julien over the summer, Galchenyuk should get one more chance to prove he can be the top pivot on this team. This idea is great, but fans should not be married to it as Montreal loves its play-making centres and Galchenyuk is more of a sniper. This is the number one reason why Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty could not rekindle the torrid pace they held to close out the 2015-2016 season; both are the guys that need to put the puck in the net at the end of the play. Enter Jonathan Drouin; the new acquisition is a great fit for the line as he would potentially get two dangerous snipers by his side to finish his plays and keep the opposition defenders guessing as to which sniper he is finding in the opposing zone. So, even if Galchenyuk does not play as dominantly as he did during that 55-game stretch, he should produce based solely on his linemates this upcoming season.
The critics against Galchenyuk point to his play after his return from injury to show that he is not a true number one centre in the league. Despite the frustration of many fans, it is important to consider that he still scored 19 points in 35 games, better than his career point production of 0.5 ppg. However, this simply was not on par with what fans had grown accustomed to from him over the last calendar year, regardless of his less than stellar play in his own zone. Galchenyuk hurt his knee and upon his return he looked sluggish, to say the least, out-of-shape, if one wants to project the most negative of scenarios. He was a step slower, lacked confidence in puck-protection, and appeared to be quickly winded and tired during his shifts. No one should be arguing the fact that Galchenyuk played anywhere near his best hockey after his injury. But even at this low point in terms of on-ice presence, Galchenyuk’s production was still on pace for close to a 50-point campaign. Now, it is fair to say that another 50-point campaign by Galchenyuk would be disappointing. However, consider that unless he forgets in what direction the net is or gets injured again, 50 points was the pace he was on while playing sluggish AND most of his games with a combination of Paul Byron, Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher, and Artturi Lehkonen as his linemates. While Lehkonen and Gallagher could easily become his linemates again, consider that both are also looking to build off of the 2016-2017 season. As for the other two, only injuries will get him playing next to Byron or Shaw again as both are now destined for bottom-six roles on this team. So, looking at an improvement over the latter part of last season, the low end of expectations for Galchenyuk should lie at the 60-point plateau. Expect this if the line with Drouin and Pacioretty doesn’t work and Galchenyuk ends up playing second line centre with Lehkonen and Gallagher.
The final piece of evidence to suggest a significant increase in Alex Galchenyuk’s productivity is quite simply his career stats. In his first three seasons, Galchenyuk was very consistent producing around 0.5 ppg. This was his production level when his play was irregular, playing the wing, learning the game. This was again his production level when his play decreased this season. When firing on all cylinders, it was much higher, all the way up to 0.9 ppg. As mentioned before, at the very minimum, this means that Galchenyuk represents a solid second line option for the next three years. However, if he can play anywhere near his increased production level, he should be ready for his first 60-point campaign. Honestly, if the mentioned first line functions, it would not be a surprise to see him produce the first 70-point season in Montreal since Tomas Plekanec accomplished this in 2009-2010. If all goes superbly well, and he gets some help (presumably from Drouin), it could be argued that the 80-point mark is not out of his reach, and that would be a first since Alex Kovalev in 2007-2008. The suggestion of an 80-point season might be somewhat lofty for a player who hasn’t shown enough regularity to reach the 60-point mark yet. But consider that in this case, he would surely not be the only one on the line to be producing at this pace. If he stays healthy, and a line with Drouin and Pacioretty starts clicking, it could be possible. This dream scenario also takes nothing away from the achievement that is a 70-point season in the NHL today. Put it all together and it shows why Alex Galchenyuk has the potential to be a breakthrough performer for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017-2018 season.