Canadiens' Galchenyuk poised for breakout season

Thursday, 08.21.2014 / 3:00 AM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor LNH.com

The Montreal Canadiens went through one of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2011-12, but the reward was the chance to select Alex Galchenyuk with the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who was hired seven weeks prior to that draft, never had any doubts about Galchenyuk's potential to become an impact player in the League despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him all but eight games with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League in his draft year.

"It was the look in his eyes," Bergevin said the night of the 2012 draft. "Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player."

This might be the season Galchenyuk becomes not only a hockey player, but a star hockey player.

Galchenyuk made the Canadiens coming out of the NHL lockout in 2012-13, and played all 48 regular-season games and all five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had 27 points as an 18-year-old rookie, 26 at even strength, in becoming one of a select group of players to be a regular in the NHL the same year he was drafted.

Between the 2005-06 and 2011-12 seasons, 20 forwards made the jump to play at least 40 games in the League the same year they were drafted. Galchenyuk is one of six forwards who have done it since 2012.

The progression of those 20 forwards in their third NHL season suggests Galchenyuk might be on the verge of a breakout in 2014-15, his third season.

Players like Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, his teammate Ryan O'Reilly, Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel and Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets emerged as legitimate scoring threats in their third NHL season after putting up modest numbers in their first two seasons.

Overall, the 20 forwards who made the jump between 2005-06 and 2011-12 averaged 0.56 points per game in their first season, 0.65 per game in their second season and 0.74 per game in their third season. Galchenyuk's averages were 0.56 in his rookie year and 0.48 last season as he struggled with injuries and finding consistency, with three five-game pointless streaks sprinkled in among his 65 regular-season games played.

But Bergevin and Canadiens coach Michel Therrien have been pleased with Galchenyuk's progression.

"In our eyes," Bergevin said, "he's going in the right direction."

One of the most pertinent comparisons to Galchenyuk among those 20 forwards might be Tyler Seguin.

Taken by the Boston Bruins with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Seguin made a minimal impact as a rookie in 2010-11 with 0.30 points per game, nearly tripled that total to 0.83 in his second season and took a step back to 0.67 in his third season.

Then Seguin was traded to the Dallas Stars, where he was moved from the wing to his natural center position on the top line. He exploded playing alongside Jamie Benn with 84 points in 80 games last season, finishing fourth in the NHL scoring race.

Like Seguin, Galchenyuk is a natural center who has played left wing over his two years in Montreal. Finding room for him at center on the Canadiens might be difficult this season, with David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller entrenched as the team's top three pivots.

But Bergevin and Therrien have both been adamant about their desire to eventually have Galchenyuk play center in the hopes he will become the Canadiens' first dominant player at that position in years.

Whether the switch to center comes this season, the possibility of Galchenyuk developing into an offensive force is a very real one for the Canadiens and could be a determining factor in their ability to compete for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.

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