Brendan Gallagher is still in his first NHL season, but he's already a target on the ice. Sounds like the second coming of Brad Marchand.
When speaking to Brendan Gallagher away from the ice, one wouldn't see him as someone who makes a living by getting under the skin of people seemingly twice his size.
Gallagher comes across as a classy young man who smiles more than most. Just about every time he's interviewed, he flashes enough teeth that would make most people's mouths hurt if they tried to mirror it. But when he steps on the ice, it's as if Gallagher becomes a completely different person, and it's an individual Montreal Canadiens fans should be glad is on their side.
He's a rookie who's played fewer than twenty National Hockey League games, yet you wouldn't know it by the reactions he gets from opposing players. To say he's even slightly afraid on the ice couldn't be farther from the truth.
Gallagher's hits get more than himself into the action. They seem to fire up whoever he's hitting more than anyone else. Against Toronto this season, Gallagher has become a thorn in their side. He's already driven his head into Dion Phaneuf's chest, and he's found himself in a scrap with feel-good-story Mike Kostka.
Take for instance, the Kostka fight. It all starts because Gallagher pushes Phaneuf onto goaltender James Reimer. But it wasn't malicious, it wasn't done to cause harm. Gallagher was pushing for position in front, and he has just as much of a right to that space as anyone else out there.
Kostka comes to his netminder's aid, gives Gallagher a shot, and lets him know it wasn't appreciated. In turn, Gallagher responds by grabbing Kostka, mostly because he's simply not fearful. The two proceed to drop the gloves, and Gallagher loses the fight. But in the end, who cares if he did? Kostka is taller by a few good inches, and he also has about thirty pounds on Gallagher. That Gallagher "lost" the tilt doesn't mean all that much. He showed that fear was non-existent, and that's what Montreal needs from him.
Now, freshmen have come into the league and made early noise before, but it's as though Gallagher's style has been seen in recent years from another forward playing for an Original Six team. That player: the always feisty Brad Marchand.
Woah, hold up, man. We don't talk about Habs that way, one may be thinking. But compare Gallagher and Marchand, and one might be surprised at how similar the two really are.
The comparison all starts with their size. Gallagher is 5'9'' and about 180 pounds, and Marchand is 5'9'' and - you guessed it - about 180 pounds. After that, their game styles just mesh into one.
Gallagher is being called a pest by many, especially Leafs fans. Many league supporters believe he's going too far too early. But it really isn't that way at all. Sure, he's a pain to play against, but in truth, Gallagher's game is understood by players throughout the league.
"He's got one way to play and he's playing hard," Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said after the Toronto win. "He's starting to earn respect, not only from his teammates but around the league."
At this point, common reaction is likely that Marchand and Gallagher are similar, but two different characters. In particular, many Montreal supporters would be horrified that one could even mention a hated Boston Bruin in the same sentence as a beloved Habs rookie. No, Alex Galchenyuk, we're not looking at you.
Marchand has played over 180 games in the NHL, and has done so by being an agitator with offensive ability. Gallagher recorded over 40 goals in the Western Hockey League multiple times; we know he's talented with the puck.
The main difference between the two is that Marchand is one of the league's most hated players, and Gallagher is earning the respect of veterans just a few games into his career.
But Marchand has been very successful playing his style. Being a small agitator in a league filled with massive bodies isn't an easy thing to do. And yet, Marchand is one of the Boston Bruins' most valuable forwards.
Respect is key in professional sports, and Gallagher seems to understand where to draw the line. For an inexperienced pro, that's essential. One could make an argument Marchand hasn't found that line yet, but there's no denying that his approach is effective.
Gallagher is a long way away from becoming an NHL mainstay, but there's a reason a concussion didn't cause him to lose his spot on the Canadiens' roster as a rookie.
"Nothing is too tough," Gallagher said. "Everything I have had to deal with, I have been able to use it to my advantage the next time."
As Gallagher's season progresses, his job will be to prove his attitude and size won't affect his long-term durability. Comparing him to Brad Marchand may be offensive to some supporters, and that's understood. But really, their games are alike, and that's precisely why Gallagher has the opportunity to succeed in the NHL.