Despite reported efforts to trade Alex Galchenyuk last year, Galchenyuk starts the 2017-18 season with a new three-year contract. Questions remain about what position he will play; his role is on the team; and whether he can build on his success from two years ago. Indeed, there is no guarantee that Marc Bergevin will not still package him as part of a deal for a more established center. Many fans would be livid. Galchenyuk remains the Montreal Canadiens best offensive threat and scored 17 mostly magnificent goals last year despite being injured.
Canadiens to Watch in 2017-18: Alex Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He was Marc Bergevin’s first pick as general manager, and explicitly drafted as the number one center the Canadiens had been looking for. Unfortunately, his player development has been uneven at best. Unlike Artturi Lehkonen who spent some time in Sweden before coming to the NHL, Galchenyuk made the roster mere months after being drafted. Under Michel Therrien, he had few regular line mates, had to adjust to widely inconsistent ice time, and spent three years on the wing before being put back in the middle.
Last year, Galchenyuk started at the center position, was moved to the wing, and then put back at center during the playoffs. In a bizarre post-season press conference, Bergevin went out of his way to suggest he was disappointed by Galchenyuk’s performance.
Better at Center
During the 2015-2016 season, Galchenyuk started on the wing, moved to center in February, took over on the Habs top line, and finished with 30 goals and 26 assists. Last fall, he roared out of the gates with 23 points in the first 24 games of the season. At center, he scored, he set up, and he smiled. Then he got injured and lost his mojo. Whatever his defensive liabilities, the Habs are better when he plays center. According to Marc Dumont, the stats are clear. Overall, when he plays center, he scores more points, the Habs score more goals, and create more scoring chances.
Just as with the Jonathan Drouin experiment, the question is whether Galchenyuk can produce offensively at center while maintaining the defensive responsibilities required at that position. Will Julien will let these young players learn the position, and accept the inevitable up and downs that result?
Facing the Faceoff Problem
The biggest challenge for Galchenyuk playing center is faceoffs. Since 2012, he has never topped 48% in the faceoff dot during the regular season or in the playoffs. Last year it was a measly 42.7%. Eric Engels reported in March that Steve Ott was helping to teach Galchenyuk how to win more faceoffs. Unfortunately his 2016-17 playoff faceoff win percentage was even worse than his performance in the regular season. A look at his faceoff splits raises more questions than it answers. It appears he wins 10% fewer faceoffs in the defensive zone, a stat that is sure to give Claude Julien indigestion. Since Ott could not get through to Galchenyuk, maybe the great one can help.
If Galchenyuk can improve on his faceoff win percentage, especially in the defensive zone, he should be playing center. Galchenyuk can build on his past success with spark plug Brendan Gallagher on the right and speedy Paul Byron on the left.
Alex Galchenyuk 2017/18 Projections
28 Goals, 37 Assists, 65 Points
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 29: Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on March 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)