TORONTO, ON — The Montreal Canadiens awful 2011-’12 season led them to be selecting third overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As the draft approached, rumors were flying that the Canadiens could be looking at trades. There was considerable speculation about who they would draft with many fans hoping for Nail Yakupov or Alex Galchenyuk from the Sarnia Sting.
As we know, the Oilers at first overall took right-winger Yakupov. The Columbus Blue Jackets took rearguard Ryan Murray with the second overall pick. Next up came Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins for their first selection together. They selected left-handed center Galchenyuk.
The Habs management made the correct choice as the team had been missing a big number number center since Vincent Damphousse. Galchenyuk’s resume was fairly thin as he was recovering from a nasty knee injury which caused him to miss nearly the entire 2011-12 OHL season. However the Canadiens felt they saw enough of Galchenyuk to warrant using the third overall pick to get him.
Fast forward four years and the Canadiens have failed to develop Alex Galchenyuk as the top six, first line center he should have naturally grown to be.
In the 2013 lockout shortened season, Galchenyuk mainly played on the left wing alongside Brandon Prust and fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher. The Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had the team playing a much more offensively conducive system. Galchenyuk looked good in his first season with the team, even with a full year of lost development due to his knee injury. His loss of speed was his biggest issue however he made up for it with his all-world skill which he showcased a little bit.
At the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, Alex Galchenyuk remained on the Canadiens third line however this time with Lars Eller in between himself and Brendan Gallagher. The trio started the year very strong with points in consecutive games, however they were dismantled by Therrien in an attempt to help David Desharnais. Unfortunately that did not work very well.
Therrien kept Galchenyuk at left wing for the entire year. Galchenyuk suffered a lower body injury late in the season. He had progressed decently during that season however the injury came at a bad time. The Canadiens made it to the third round without Galchenyuk.
Once Galchenyuk came back, he was the Canadiens best player in that series, however he was used exclusively on the left wing. Thomas Vanek and Daniel Briere were also demoted to the fourth line by Therrien. One memory that may haunt many Habs fans is Alex Galchenyuk with an absolute rocket from the slot, only to nail the bar in the dying minutes of Game 4 vs the Rangers.
This would have been a perfect opportunity to pair Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Vanek while in need of goals to extend the series. Instead Therrien stifled Galchenyuk on the left wing without giving his best player a shot to prove himself at center.
Galchenyuk`s third NHL season had a positive start to it. He was producing, looking like a new player, with more speed and growing confidence. He even was put at center for nine games with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Galchenyuk and Pacioretty were on a point-per-game pace and the Canadiens had only lost one game in regulation.
Curiously Therrien decided to break that combo up, claiming that Galchenyuk had asked to move back to left wing – something which was simply not true as confirmed by several members of the media. Once Galchenyuk was moved back to left wing, he struggled mightily but was left there. Therrien did not do anything to get him going. Galchenyuk finished the season with career highs in all offensive categories but was held back from taking the next step into an elite center.
Now we find ourselves more than halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season. Alex Galchenyuk, for the most part, has been dominant. His sister, Anna helped him train in the off-season, adding significant muscle. Galchenyuk came into the season bigger, stronger, faster and a better player.
He looked good early on however he was not lighting up the scoreboard. The points started to come after the 10-game mark. When playing at center, Galchenyuk was strong alongside Lars Eller and at the time, Alex Semin.
On December 1, 2015 the Canadiens began one of their worst stretches in franchise history. Galchenyuk, who was playing with Eller and a revolving door of rookies/bottom sixers managed to continue to produce while no one else was.
Eventually coach Therrien decided to move Galchenyuk back to left wing and Eller to center. The problem is not Eller at center, it is that Therrien had moved Galchenyuk – his best center – to the left wing in favor of keeping Desharnais in the middle. Galchenyuk`s production has slumped as he was pointless in eight games. However, in the past two games, Alex has two points.
The Canadiens for four years now seem to be content with Alex Galchenyuk playing on the left wing over a far inferior player at center in Desharnais. For the first two seasons it was fine as Galchenyuk was getting accustomed to the professional game, however the Canadiens missed a prime opportunity to develop Galchenyuk at 20 years old as a center.
Galchenyuk this season is one of the best Canadiens players in the face-off circle and in general, he has proven countless times that he ready for top minutes at center yet he rarely got it. When looking at Galchenyuk, you know he oozes talent, he is ready to break out as a center but has never truly been given the chance.
It’s clear that Galchenyuk is the Canadiens most talented player and center. However he is being used as a winger by Therrien to try and compensate for the lack of top six wingers. The Canadiens have done everything to protect a 29-year-old Desharnais at center.
Therrien has tried every single line combo you can think of except for the trio of Pacioretty, Galchenyuk and Gallagher. The Canadiens have failed to develop Alex Galchenyuk as a number one center now for four years into his NHL career. He is ready to breakout yet he continues to be under-utilized in prime situations and with proper linemates.
Galchenyuk is still projected to outproduce full time centers such as Torrey Mitchell and Lars Eller. And of course Alex will best Desharnais who has just one powerplay point in his last 35 games and yet still plays with the Canadiens top wingers.
It is time for the Canadiens to let Alex Galchenyuk develop full time as their number one center whether they make the playoffs or not this year. It is time for Therrien to play Galchenyuk with Pacioretty and Gallagher hopefully watching them flourish. This is the best hope for a number one center that the team has been missing for the better part of two decades.