For years, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t had that franchise defining star forward. As beloved and hardworking as he was, former captain Saku Koivu was better as a No.2 centre. In the case of Alex Kovalev, he was as talented as they come but was enigmatic and inconsistent. Even now, Max Pacioretty is a very good power forward but, in my mind, he isn’t the face of the forward corps. That role will soon belong to Alex Galchenyuk.
Galchenyuk has all the tools to become a star player in the NHL and his potential is sky high. He has the size (6′ 1″ and 203 pounds according to NHL.com) that Montreal lacks up front, with a lot more room to fill out his frame. His hockey sense is off the charts, as he can find players on the ice with ease. His hands are key to his impressive playmaking abilities and he owns a deceptive wrist shot that he can stand to use more often.
Going into the 2012 draft, Galchenyuk was one of the X-factors in the draft. A knee injury ravaged his draft year seeing him only play two regular season games and six in the playoffs. Scouts had to rely on viewings from his very impressive OHL rookie campaign, in which piled up 83 points in 68 games as a 16-year-old.
When Montreal stepped up to the draft podium with the third overall pick in 2012, they could have easily taken one of the many talented defencemen available or one of the other forwards who didn’t suffer a significant injury, like Filip Forsberg or Mikhail Grigorenko. But Habs management believed he was healthy enough while his skill and intangibles made him too good of a player to pass up.
So far the numbers haven’t come for Galchenyuk, though he is still the highest scoring player of the 2012 draft class and is just 20 years old. He gets knocked off the puck, which suggests he needs more strength. However given his skill set and the plays he makes, it is glaringly obvious that he is best suited to play in the middle of the ice.
In my last article talking about the Montreal Canadiens, I discussed how Galchenyuk needs to be a centre and waiting isn’t the best course of action. He will not get better at face-offs if he doesn’t take them and his defensive game will come as he matures. He is the most gifted forward Montreal has and putting him on the third line or on the wing in a shutdown role just doesn’t make sense with his skill set.
When you examine the logjam at the centre ice position for the Habs, some movement will need to be made. No matter how you spin it, David Desharnais isn’t a No.1 centre. I admire how he bucked the odds at 5’7″ and his work ethic and skill is NHL-worthy. However, when you look around the NHL, you just can’t win with a 5’7″ No.1 centre, no matter how good he is. Smaller players typically end up as wingers, with Nathan Gerbe, Martin St. Louis and Desharnais’s teammate Brendan Gallagher as examples. Tomas Plekanec is a good No.2 while Lars Eller slots in best at No.2/3. That’s where Galchenyuk comes in as a No.1.
In some ways, despite his talents, Alex Galchenyuk has been overlooked. In Sarnia, the spotlight shone a little brighter on teammate and 2012 No.1 pick Nail Yakupov. In Montreal, Gallagher stepped up from a 2010 fifth round pick to an NHL regular and won over fans with his smile and endless energy that parlayed into a Calder trophy nomination.
While Galchenyuk doesn’t have the speed or flash of Yakupov or play the game like Gallagher, he is integral to the Habs’ hopes. He is a supposed gym rat which points to his work ethic and he wore the ‘C’ in junior, which suggests he has some leadership qualities. He has showed some clutch ability, such as scoring the winning goal in a shootout in the bronze medal game at the 2013 World Championships for Team USA. He also scored the overtime winner in the Eastern Conference final in just his second game back from injury in game three against New York. He also nearly scored the winner in game four, putting a hard wrist shot off the crossbar late in third period.
Galchenyuk is on the cusp of breaking out as a big-time player for the Canadiens. His unique blend of size, skill and hockey sense make him a threat every time he steps on the ice. A few more pounds on his frame, more ice time, and a switch to his natural center position can be the keys to him becoming a force. Habs fans have been waiting a long time for a legitimate No. 1 centre and while Galchenyuk likely won’t take on the role right way, he is not far from it. The Habs have their franchise goalie in Carey Price, the defenceman in PK Subban, and Galchenyuk has the potential to take the franchise forward crown and complete the hat trick of star players.
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