Many were discouraged by Marc Bergevin's end-of-season press conference, when he said that Alex Galchenyuk "may never be a centre." However, those concerns were all for naught, as Bergevin announced during the annual golf tournament that Galchenyuk was going to play centre this season. This seems to signal that his development is complete in the eyes of the brass, and he is now ready to assume his rightful place.
During the 2014-15 season, Galchenyuk received a 13-game audition at centre while David Desharnais was struggling. The experiment produced some exciting hockey, and seemed to demonstrate that he has what it takes to play down the middle.
Galchenyuk's success at centre this season will be closely tied to the success of his linemates. If the preseason is to be any indication, his linemates to start the year will be Alexander Semin - who is coming off a disastrous season in Carolina - and Lars Eller, who is more adept at playing centre. Theoretically this would not breed optimism, but they have done very well together thus far, and have consistently proven to be dangerous offensively. The early return seems exceedingly positive for Galchenyuk's move to centre, but will it carry through to the regular season?
He arrived at training camp in tremendous shape after a rigorous offseason training regimen, and he looks like a prototypical NHL centreman. He's got speed, size, strength, and he's making strides in the faceoff circle as well, but what of his ability to play solid defensive hockey?
A look at last season
While playing centre, Galchenyuk and his linemates actually fared quite well in terms of limiting opposition scoring. In fact, his line with Pacioretty and Gallagher was top three on the team in even strength goals against per 60 minutes, albeit through a not-so-large sample. Nonetheless, the results have to be considered encouraging.
There is, however, a caveat to the results in the table above. It seems that the third line this year will likely be comprised of Tomas Fleischmann, David Desharnais, and Dale Weise. If that is the case, then the third line will not be able to eat up the defensive zone starts and tough assignments that it did last year. This will make things a little tougher on Galchenyuk, as the top two lines - one of which he'll be centring - will be relied upon to take on the workload.
While Therrien is likely to try and put Galchenyuk's new trio in offensive situations whenever possible, the simple fact is that he's not always going to be able to do that. They'll have to carry some of the load defensively, and that will likely be the biggest test Galchenyuk will face as a newly minted centre.
As for offense, well, last year's numbers are equally encouraging for him as he moves to the middle of the ice. Galchenyuk's line while playing centre once again fared better than every one of the lines he skated with on the wing, and were among the top five lines on the team, producing 3.5 even strength goals per 60 minutes.
The first - albeit unrelated - thing that stands out from this table, is that Plekanec playing alongside Pacioretty and Gallagher makes sense. Over five even strength goals per 60, even in a small sample, is absurdly good. The second is that Galchenyuk is clearly capable of driving offense from the middle of the ice, certainly more so than he is from the wing.
The numbers don't lie. Galchenyuk spent the bull's share of his time to the left of Tomas Plekanec with Brendan Gallagher manning the other wing. That trio only managed 2.3 even strength goals per 60 compared to the 3.5 he put up as a centre. Naturally there has to be some consideration of the Pacioretty effect, but Galchenyuk is a born goal scorer, and an underrated playmaker. He belongs in the middle and, particularly at the offensive end, he proved that in his audition last year.
In order to stay successful, Galchenyuk will have to remain confident in his abilities, and continue to create new offensive opportunities that play to his strength of carrying the puck into the zone. When you consider that he's very likely to be taking on more tough assignments and defensive zone starts than he's used to, this becomes even more important. He needs to be able to drive the play into the offensive zone, where the best facets of his game will be able to shine.
The good news is that he has a defensive stalwart of a forward playing to his left in Eller. If they, as a unit with Semin, can handle the increased defensive responsibility, this will be a very exciting line to watch. They'll be a very difficult trio to contain offensively, and it will simply be a matter of getting the puck into that zone. There are no guarantees, but things are definitely looking up for Alex Galchenyuk as a centreman.