Here's to the Canadiens massive leap of faith.
Alex Galchenyuk, the highest draft pick for the Canadiens in over 30 years, is also Trevor Timmins' biggest risk. The Canadiens used their unexpected third overall pick and used it on a player who only played eight OHL games and four international games in his draft year, sandwiched between an ACL injury. The injury is fully healed, but he was largely picked based on his skill set and what he showed at 16 years old, not at 17.
Projecting 17 year olds is tough enough, but projecting 16 year olds as NHLers is even tougher. Trevor Timmins took a risk in 2005 when he used a fifth overall pick on goaltender Carey Price, but this pick, slightly higher, might be a bigger gamble.
This pick will be talked about for the next decade, and probably will be referenced my entire life by obsessive fans (so, you and me). Us at Eyes on the Prize welcome Alex Galchenyuk with a hopeful third overall placement on our annual Top 25 Under 25 list.
Alex was highly rated by each member of the panel, even receiving a first place vote. Kevin, the conservative projector of 18 year olds that he is, had him 10th. For the most part, our panel had him 3rd, behind the two 'veteran' NHL stars to come.
|Player||Berkshire||Cooper||Peter||Boyle||van Steendelaar||Dahan||Ive||Boucher||La Rose||Rice|
In everyone's eyes but Kevin's, he's already the best hope at center in the system.
Galchenyuk looks like the full package at forward. He's got good top end speed, superb puck skill, and is an excellent thinker of the game on both sides of the puck. Scouts rave about his puck handling skills, which has helped make him an elite playmaker at the junior level. He can beat players with his dekes, his passes, or his shot, making him a complete offensive threat. At the Canadiens' draft combine, journalists were raving about his wrist shot, as he was able to get high, hard shots off quickly and from a distance.
Perhaps the most telling compliments about Galchenyuk's game come from the near universal praise for his on ice vision and hockey sense. He's deceptive with the puck, rarely giving indication of what he's going to do next. He can send saucer passes to his teammates when challenged, make a break towards the goal, or make the easy pass to his teammate to set himself up for the return feed and scoring chance. Better yet, he's good in traffic and without the puck as well:
He's very coordinated in tight, showing plus puck skills and great creativity. While he can do great things in open ice, he's also dangerous on the cycle with a big body and a good physical work ethic that makes it very hard for opponents to strip possession from him. Galchenyuk is a very hard worker who shows commitment at the defensive end of the rink, and outside of the knee injury, he has no aspect about his profile that you cannot praise.
-Corey Pronman, Hockey Prospectus
That commitment theme comes up time and time again with Galchenyuk. McKeen's Hockey scouting director David Burstyn lauds his competitive streak and off-ice training to go with his commitment to the 200 foot game. He's shown great desire to be an NHL player despite the opportunities available to him in Russia, where he was selected in the second round of the 2011 KHL Draft by top club Atlant Mytischi. He's lived and played hockey all over the world, but has decided to use his American citizenship going forward and is very focused on becoming a NHL star, something his father couldn't achieve despite all his international success.
About the only aspect of his talent that I've seen questioned is his acceleration or "first-step quickness". While he's got great speed overall, his ability to go from standing still to a sprint is a bit below par. Other than that flaw, the biggest issue with Galchenyuk and selecting him so high is the lack of information on his game over the past year. While he's recovered fully from his ACL injury, scouts weren't able to pick up too many flaws in his game, or see how his game developed with greater scrutiny and attention from both the hockey world at large and the OHL in particular. Many players have looked fantastic at age 16 but started to show warts at age 17. Corey Pronman wrote a lengthy article on how this might impact the perception of Galchenyuk and why picking him high was likely the biggest risk in the entire 2012 NHL Draft.
With a lockout looming in the NHL, Alex Galchenyuk has returned to the Sarnia Sting and has started to play preseason games with his junior club again. A fully healthy season will go a long way to determine whether the Canadiens faith in his skills was justified. The early results seem encouraging, with a decent showing at the United States Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid in August and a strong start to his preseason play. When the Canadiens have their training camp, it is possible that Galchenyuk could break camp with the team as a left winger, with the idea of eventually moving him to center (much like the Bruins have done with Tyler Seguin).
On a side note, I've looked at typical 16 year old seasons and tried to see how much of a statistical bump would've been expected of Galchenyuk the next year. Here are some comparables by points per game:
|Player||League||Draft -1||Draft Year|
Alex Galchenyuk, in his Draft -1 year, was at 1.22 Pts/GP in the OHL. He was about the production range that Gabriel Landeskog was at in his draft year, and one could easily project that even with a modest improvement in his totals he could have been with the group of players that made the jump to the NHL right at 18. Brett Connolly is a cautionary tale in this group, as he only played 16 games in his draft season. Connolly played junior hockey at 18 as a result, the only one on this list not to go directly to the NHL from the draft. Connolly put up 1.22 Pts/GP in his first post-draft year, which equals Galchenyuk's Draft -1 Year.
All of this goes to say that Alex Galchenyuk looks like he's a special player. Whatever the Canadiens choose to do with him in 2012-13 when training camp breaks probably won't hurt him in the long run. There's good reason to believe he can make the jump, especially if he can get some good game action in ahead of the start of the NHL season.
After that number crunching... the fun part:
You can follow him on Twitter @AGally94.
|#4: Lars Eller||#3: Alex Galchenyuk||#2: Max Pacioretty|