In the season-opener on Wednesday night, Brendan Gallagher looked exactly like his usual self. He was tenacious. He was quick. He went to the dirty areas against larger defenders. And, of course, he was assessed a minor penalty for goaltender interference.
The former fifth-round pick forcefully took his NHL job with the Montreal Canadiens by playing a much bigger man's game, and has ridden that style of play to the top of the depth chart on the right wing. This year, he's playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, so it should be a great chance for him to put up even more impressive numbers than he has managed thus far in his career.
Gallagher set NHL career-highs in goals (24), assists (23), and points (47) last season. You can't realistically expect him to continue his trend of increasing his point totals every year, but given the unlikely nature of his ascension, it's very hard to put a ceiling on him.
His personal production was stellar, but how did he affect his linemates' play?
As the chart above shows, the Canadiens commanded play with a higher percentage of shot attempts with Gallagher on the ice than they did when he was not. It's not coincidental that no member of the team aside from Max Pacioretty puts more rubber on net than number 11. Those two, who played together for about half ot the season, were a nightmare for opposing goalies, forcing opposing netminders into constant action while one or both took a shift.
Gallagher did benefit from a majority of offensive zone starts last season, and probably will again this year, but that is exactly how you want to use a player like Gallagher. He's not exactly a problem at the defensive end, but he is at his best when he can get to the opposing net and create havoc. Set him up in the offensive zone, and he'll find his way to the net, and from there work his magic.
There has always been concern over Gallagher's style of play, in that it could lead to him sustaining injuries and missing time as he goes toe-to-toe with bigger opponents. Not to jinx anything, but last year he dressed for all 82 regular season games, and 81 the year before that. He definitely takes risks, but over the last two seasons he seems to have proven that concerns over his style of play are largely unwarranted.
Since last year was his best yet, what can we expect as a follow up?
I find it appropriate that a drop is not projected for Gallagher's shooting percentage. He produces the bulk of his shots in a very high-percentage area — as close to the net as he can possibly get — so there's no reason for his conversion rate to suffer much from season to season. Considering how much he shoots and where he does it from, one could even argue the possibility of him seeing a rise in his personal shooting percentage.
One thing that will always be a big bonus for Gallagher (considering his style of play) is the man who skates on his opposite wing. Max Pacioretty has a shot that is difficult to handle for any goaltender, and this will create tons of rebounds for his Gallagher to pound home. With the way Gallagher goes to the net, it is a match made in heaven in terms of creating those "garbage goals" that can often make the difference in a game.
This is a player who has constantly outperformed expectations, from the WHL all the way to the Montreal Canadiens. He is now a pivotal member of a squad that hopes to compete for a Stanley Cup this season. Given his skill and relentless work ethic, all signs point to another solid year from Brendan Gallagher.