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As December starts to wind down, it's hard to be optimistic about anything
hockey-related. The NHL lockout seems no closer to a conclusion than it was
months ago, and while the World Junior Championships start shortly, the prospect
of staying up all night to watch games live seems less than appetizing.
On a more positive note, however, the lockout has provided an excellent opportunity to examine Montreal's often-overlooked development system and the prospects within it. One especially positive note in an otherwise disappointing year has been forward Brendan Gallagher and his rookie campaign with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. The WHL graduate, drafted 147th overall from the Vancouver Giants in 2010, has already exceeded expectations that accompany such a late selection. While the Bulldogs' record has been unimpressive thus far this season, Gallagher's play has been nothing short of solid.
Having tallied 5 points in his last 6 games and 17 points (9G, 8A) through his first 27 games, Gallagher leads the Bulldogs in both goals and points scored. But couple this with the fact that he is both a rookie and playing on a fairly weak team and those scoring numbers become even more impressive. In addition to these numbers has been the strides he is made towards becoming a more complete player. Coming off a strong WJC performance for Team Canada last December, and adding considerable muscle mass in the summer, Gallagher has taken his game to an entirely new level.
On a roster composed pre-dominantly of minus players, Brendan has maintained a steady +2 rating this season, one of only four players to maintain a positive rating on the team. Despite his small size (5'9"), Gallagher has shown that he is not afraid to play a physical game, something that should excite Montreal fans considering the frequent calls that the Habs have been too soft and too timid in recent years. He has been committed to going to the net, regardless of the abuse he has taken along the way, and has shown little fear of the (often) larger competition he faces each game. His fearless play will surely make him a fan favourite at any team he may play for in the coming years.
Also worth bearing in mind is the fact that the competition in the AHL is more intense that it has been in years, as NHL-ready talent such as Taylor Hall, Nazem Kadri, Jordan Eberle, and countless others have joined their AHL affiliates to wait out the work stoppage. Yet whereas the Bulldogs as a whole have faltered in the face of this stiff competition, Gallagher has consistently risen to the challenge, showing signs of growing maturity with each passing game. On top of making an impressive jump from junior hockey to the professional leagues, he has emerged as a leader and a competitor against top-tier talent. The fact that this year's edition of the Bulldogs is fairly weak is likely a blessing in disguise for his development, ensuring he is given every possible opportunity to succeed, be it through seeing top-line minutes or being tasked with heading up the first powerplay unit. He has not taken these opportunities for granted, and has surely been Hamilton's best player so far this season.
It seems likely that Gallagher will get his shot with the Habs once (if... relax, I'm kidding) the NHL resumes, be it later this season or come next September. The uncertainty that surrounds the eventual post-lockout world will certainly make Brendan an attractive and inexpensive roster option with a year of pro-hockey under his belt. At the very least he will certainly receive a lengthy look at the next training camp, assured by what is shaping up to be a very successful 2012-2013 campaign and a growing perception that this prospect is approaching the "NHL ready" designation.
While it is far too early to predict what level of success this twenty year-old from Delta, British Columbia will enjoy at the NHL level, this season has shown that he has both the tools and the drive to be an effective player in the professional leagues.