by Blain Potvin, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Alex Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, was the first player selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the Marc Bergevin era. Bergevin had been on the job as Canadiens general manager just over a month before he walked to the podium at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

When Galchenyuk was taken, the hope was that Trevor Timmins had drafted the big bodied, offensively talented, center that had been missing from the Montreal roster since Vincent Damphousse was traded to the San Jose Sharks in March of 1999.

Galchenyuk was able to crack the Canadiens roster as an 18-year-old to begin his NHL career, the first to accomplish this feat since Petr Svoboda did so in 1984.

Over his five seasons in the NHL, Galchenyuk has made progress in each one. Despite this, it was a struggle for Alex to gain the trust of Michel Therrien. Similarly Claude Julien has chosen to move the 23-year-old to the wing. Both coaches have expressed concern about his consistency and defensive awareness.

To begin the 2016-17 season, Galchenyuk started as the top line center, just as he had left off in the previous year. Prior to his December 3rd knee injury against the LA Kings, Galchenyuk was producing at close to a point-per-game rate. This was not replicated following his return from injury.

Coach Julien chose to move Galchenyuk to the wing citing hesitant play and defensive inconsistencies. The move seems to have caused Alex further confusion. However, in his last three games of the season, he seemed more capable defensively. That said, it came at a cost offensively during five-on-five play.

This season, Galchenyuk averaged 0.72 points per game (PPG). His PPG has risen in every season he has played. His offensive acumen is not in question. What is in question is his defensive abilities, and if playing center with its added responsibilities is right for him at the NHL level. The team needs him to be an impact player offensively whether he is at center or wing.

Enter the 2017 playoffs. Ignoring that a single shift of these playoffs have yet to be played, fans debate furiously on social media his deployment to the fourth line. What is missed in this debate is his use as a center on the second wave of the power-play.

Yet, as we’ve seen in the past, lines are consistently in flux depending on the shifting sands known as momentum and situational needs. What is clear however, is that Julien is sending a message to his gifted youngster. It is a message that, if he heeds it, will pay dividends to the Canadiens throughout the playoffs.

While not a focus at the moment a positive playoff performance will impact contract talks, as re-signing Galchenyuk will be a priority for Marc Bergevin this off-season.

Comparables

Two young centremen and one winger of comparable age, skill, and production to Galchenyuk were signed to long-term deals by their respective clubs last summer. Their contracts could provide a roadmap for the value of Galchenyuk’s deal.

This first comparable is Nathan MacKinnon, signed to a seven-year, $44.1 million extension ($6.3M AAV) following his entry-level contract (ELC). MacKinnon signed his long term deal directly out of his ELC, so the club was buying fewer unrestricted free agency (UFA) years. Nonetheless, his draft position, age, and production place him as a firm comparable.

Until this year, Mackinnon had enjoyed a regular increase in PPG production, however, either due to the security of his new deal, or simply due to his team having such a poor season, his production plateaued. That said, he was one of the very few bright spots during their season where the Avalanche finished at the bottom of the NHL standings.

A second comparable at center is Mark Scheifele. His progression was slightly slower than Galchenyuk’s, as he played two more seasons in the OHL before he was able to break into the NHL full-time and establish himself as the Jets’ top line center.

Like MacKinnon, Scheifele signed his eight year, $49 million contract extension ($6.125M AAV) deal directly out of his ELC, so his club was also buying fewer UFA years. Both deals firmly place them as core pieces for their respective franchises.

While Scheifele’s production increase has been similar to Galchenyuk’s over the same time period, his usage has been almost exclusively as a center, cementing himself as the top line center. This past season, he scored 32 goals and 82 points in 79 games.

A third comparable is Nashville’s Filip Forsberg. Drafted as a center, eight positions after Galchenyuk at eleventh overall in 2013, Forsberg has begun to play a key role on the wing of Nashville’s top line. As with the other comparables, Forsberg signed his long term contract directly after his ELC, signing a six year, $36 million dollar contract extension ($6M AAV).

Despite being drafted as a center, Forsberg was shifted to the wing when he began in the NHL and his impact was instantaneous. He has played every game for his franchise since earning a permanent roster spot. Forsberg has also demonstrated his ability to play a two-way game on the wings and has provided added value with his offensive prowess recording 26, 33, and 31 goal seasons.

Taking into account these comparables, a long-term deal around six million dollars seems reasonable for Galchenyuk. What may play a larger factor in the negotiations may be the bridge deal Galchenyuk is completing this season. It has taken him more time to develop in the NHL than the comparables above.

The question is, has Galchenyuk done enough to earn a seven or eight year deal at a comparable cap hit? It is not inconceivable that management is allowing Galchenyuk’s overall play dictate that value. Despite having had inconsistencies in his play this season, as well as an inability to cement himself as a bonafide top line center, how he plays this spring will have a direct impact on the value and term of his contract.

If Galchenyuk’s work ethic matches his skill level these playoffs, he will have played a key role in the team’s success. Undoubtedly, he will have been able to produce when it matters most. Raising one’s level of play during the playoffs is often reflected in contract discussions. Fans will be anxiously watching for Alex Galchenyuk to reach that next level.

Edited by Donna Sim