Alex Galchenyuk on Wing: Meant To Be?

Despite a horrendous season for the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Galchenyuk has been a rare bright spot.The forward has 19 goals and 20 assists in 64 games, just two goals and seven points shy of his career-high in both those categories. Lately, head coach Michel Therrien has put the natural centre on the wing with Lars Eller, and this move has paid huge dividends. Is Galchenyuk on wing meant to be?

Alex Galchenyuk on Wing: Meant To Be?

Galchenyuk played centre for most of his hockey career leading up to the NHL, but has largely played left wing during his four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. At 6’1″, 207 LBS, the American was the ideal centre the Canadiens needed when they selected him third overall at the 2012 NHL Draft.

After playing on an irregular basis at centre in the past two seasons, Galchenyuk played the first half of the season at his natural position, producing 10 goals and 17 assists in 44 games. Once the team started going through their slump, he was put back on the wing. He never got the opportunity to centre captain Max Pacioretty and workhorse Brendan Gallagher on the top line.

He did play a handful of games on the wing with Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec, and the trio did play well together, producing more consistently than the top line of Pacioretty, David Desharnais and former-Hab Dale Weise. However, after Desharnais went down with a foot injury on February 15, Galchenyuk was told to play on the wing with Lars Eller, whom he centred earlier the season.

The duo, whomever they were put with, have been scoring at a better rate than any other line. Galchenyuk has five goals in the last five games, and eight points in the last eleven games. All season, his points per sixty minutes is 2.28, second on the team behind Gallagher, but he plays only an average of 15:45 per game.

Eller, who has 1.37 P/60, has a goal and three assists in the past five contests, and six points in the last 11, which are good numbers for a shutdown centre.  However its probably not good enough for someone expected to play on the top two lines.

Both players have good possession numbers, too. Galchenyuk, second on the team with an astonishing Corsi of 59.45% in all situations, has a PDO of 98.35, so more pointss are yet to come from the 22-year-old. Surprisingly, Eller is fourth in Corsi for 5-on-5 situations with 54.29%. With possession like that, the two players can be a wrecking force on both sides of the ice.

Galchenyuk was put on the wing in mid-January, and although his Corsi% did drop by 2.7 points, his goals per sixty has significantly increased from 0.9 to 1.5 goals. His shooting percentage is also up 1.9% from 11% in 21 games that he has played on the wing. Most significant for the young sniper is that he is seeing 17.4 minutes per game on the wing, compared to 15 minutes a night at centre.

The numbers partially argue why Galchenyuk is better suited to play with Eller, and on the wing. They compliment each other as Eller is a defensive centre, much like Plekanec, and is responsible in his own zone. Galchenyuk is attack minded, creates open space in the offensive zone, and can virtually score from anywhere. His new favourite scoring spot is from the right face-off circle, preferably down low. He has an amazing shot from there, and as a center, he would not be able to roam in that territory of the ice.

As per war-on-ice.com, Galchenyuk has higher shooting percentages in the slot and on the sides of the net, and his highest-percentage shot is in the right slot. Although he has scored many goals from the right side, he takes a fair amount of shots from the left side, too. He takes more shots from higher up in the zone on the left wing.

 

Here are still screenshots of two goals from each side.

 

Goal vs. Toronto on February 27. Notice how Galchenyuk is on right side, and after circling the puck, right winger Sven Andrighetto loops back towards the left side, and goes towards the slot. Eller, meanwhile, is crashing the net and screening Jonathan Bernier while Galchenyuk walks in to score.

 

In this goal against Buffalo on February 2nd, Galchenyuk picks up the puck off the face-off, cuts in from the left side, and scores one of his nicest goals this season. Notice again that Galchenyuk is supported by a man in front and a man in the slot.

In order for Galchenyuk to be successful on the wing, he will need to play in this type of system in the offensive zone. This will allow him to move freely from the left and right sides, have a passing option, and have a player screening the goalie should he decide to shoot.

Gallagher is his perfect line mate for this, and of course, at this point an ideal centre may not be on the roster.  Gallagher’s office is in front of the net, as seen in the goal against Buffalo. Eller could stay in the slot and feed Galchenyuk the occasional pass to set him up for a goal, as the duo have been doing lately. Gallagher was put on a line with them at the end of Thursday night’s contest against the Kings, so one could presume that Therrien is experimenting with them as a trio.

While Eller and Galchenyuk have done well, it would be interesting to see if Galchenyuk could do even more with a more offensively inclined player in the middle.  Of course it is up to Marc Bergevin to acquire that player in the offseason, and until that happens, Eller is the player best suited to play the middle of his line on the current roster.

Galchenyuk has a high ceiling offensively. He will need a miraculous finish to the season to hit the 30-goal plateau, but for now 25 is very much in reach.  He could even go beyond in future years.

Despite the protests of many Habs fans, it would appear Alex Galchenyuk is suited to terrorizing goalies on the wing- and not at centre- where he can freely be an offensive force.

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