Alex Galchenyuk Is Finding His Game With the Toronto Maple Leafs

Akex Galchenyuk

Drafted third overall in 2012 by the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Galchenyuk has seen quite the odd hockey career. After an up-and-down career with the Habs, he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi prior to the 2018-19 season.

Since that fateful trade, Galchenyuk is now suiting up for his fifth NHL team in the past three seasons. That’s if you don’t count his brief stop with the Carolina Hurricanes this season, where he never actually joined the team. However, his name has been popping up more often since his call-up from the Toronto Marlies. The former top prospect may be getting his groove back at the NHL level.

Alex Galchenyuk Regaining Confidence After Trade to Leafs

Diving Into His 2020-21 Results

His Time in Ottawa

After a poor 2019-20 season split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild, Galchenyuk began the year in an Ottawa Senators uniform after signing as a free agent. Some will say he never got a fair shake in Ottawa, some will say he didn’t deserve the chance. Yet he only had one goal and no assists in eight games. He was playing the least amount of ice time in his career (9:30 per game). However, there were some signs of life in Ottawa.

All advanced stats via MoneyPuck.

Of course, playing under 10 minutes a night on one of the worst teams in the league won’t lend itself to offensive production. But a cursory look tells you that Galchenyuk’s most common linemates in Ottawa only made the situation worse. He spent the most time playing left wing on a line with Derek Stepan and Austin Watson, who are not exactly known at this point for their offensive prowess. Yet as terrible as that line sounds, they didn’t get completely caved – a 47.1 percent expected goals share. That almost-decent number may have been a result of low quality of competition. It could also have been Galchenyuk’s play helping drive that line. His mid-season move to Toronto suggests the latter.

His Time in Toronto

Galchenyuk’s journey with the Maple Leafs organization began in a league the 27-year-old had never played in: the AHL. The veteran of over 500 NHL contests was placed on waivers by the Hurricanes before being dealt. Once traded, he was assigned to the Marlies and spent some time on the taxi squad. He got to work with Toronto’s coaching staff for an extensive period of time before getting into game action with the Leafs. That was a crucial move in restoring some of Galchenyuk’s confidence.

Playing in his Leafs debut, Galchenyuk was thrust onto the Leafs’ ever-changing second line. He took his first shift with John Tavares and William Nylander, and quite frankly, hasn’t looked back since. While yes, his personal offensive production has improved, that’s not where this story ends.

Hitting the Ground Running

Despite a small sample size, his three points in five games with the Leafs would have him on his best point pace since 2017-18 with Montreal. It’s reasonable to say that in those five games, he’s played his best hockey since then too.

In those five games, Galchenyuk’s addition to the Tavares line has seen the second unit put up a 75 percent expected goals share. While evidently not sustainable, it’s a snapshot of how well Galchenyuk has meshed with his two linemates. He’s made multiple effortless passes to set up quality chances, driving that xG number up and up (even if the goalie makes a miraculous stop). That’s not to say that the second line wasn’t good previously. Their most common left-winger overall this year has actually been Alexander Kerfoot. With him, they’ve put up a 63.2 percent expected goals share. That’s still great numbers, but a 12 percent bump with Galchenyuk’s addition demonstrates clearly how, at least early on, he’s been an unlikely spark plug in Toronto’s top six.

Further Implications and Final Thoughts

We’ve all been aware for weeks now of Kyle Dubas’ desire to add to the forward position. This isn’t to say that Galchenyuk solves all of the Leafs’ problems, but figure this:

Galchenyuk, Tavares, and Nylander obviously shouldn’t be broken up. He’s played his way into a top-six role and stayed there. If the Leafs do add a forward before the deadline, he’s going to *hopefully* be playing with Auston Matthews in Mitch Marner.

That also isn’t to say that players like Hyman and Thornton haven’t already worked well with Matthews and Marner. But with Kerfoot likely going the other way in any potential deal, Toronto’s bottom-six group could solidly include Zach Hyman, Pierre Engvall, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Ilya Mikheyev. And oh, right, Alexander Barabanov and Nick Robertson exist. As well as Adam Brooks, who’s been somewhat capable at the NHL level.

The Leafs are in an enviable position thanks to the moves like these. And while losing other useful pieces like Travis Boyd to waivers wasn’t great, it was an inevitable fate of a flat salary cap. But as Dubas has shown in the past, his ability to wheel and deal under pressure is becoming unmatched.

The future is bright and the future is now. And, as always, thanks for reading.

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