You have to wonder what could have been for Brendan Gallagher if not for his injury troubles this past season. First it was a pair of broken fingers - gruesomely sustained while blocking a shot - that forced him to miss significant action before returning for the Winter Classic. Then a knee injury late in the year put him back on the shelf again. All told, he suited up for only 53 games on the year.
I say only to preface that total because in the two previous years, he suited up for 82 and 81 regular season games respectively. He's a workhorse, he seems to have a bottomless gas tank, and his strength and conditioning program is ridiculous. He simply fell on some bad injury luck, which can happen to anyone in hockey.
Since his near meteoric rise to the NHL, Gallagher has been one of the more dependable forwards on the Canadiens roster. He has scored 40 or more points every year aside from the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, he cracked 20 goals for the first time in 2014-15, and he would have again this year without those injuries.
And you could put money on that, because during those 53 games for which he was dressed, he was an absolute monster. I kid you not when I say that his absence for 29 games was nearly as detrimental to the team's success as that of Carey Price. Now, allow me to elaborate on that.
We're talking about a veritable possession monster. At even-strength, he posted a 55.9% Corsi For, which is good for +5.7% relative to his teammates. This translates well to his scoring chance numbers, where he controlled 52.8% of scoring chances, and 52.9% of high-danger chances. Simply put, he drives offence, and does it very well.
And he was deployed as such, starting 55.4% of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone, but that's exactly how you want him to be used. He is at his best when he can get into the dirty areas, in particular that spot he adores; right in front of the opposing goaltender's face. He's a power forward in a small package, and it is a sight to behold every night.
He makes the absolute best of that deployment, leading his team in a number of important categories. In terms of points per 60 minutes played, he was tied with only Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk at 2.07. He leads the team alone in scoring chances for (aforementioned), Goals for per 60 minutes played (3.2), and blew away his teammates with a whopping 62.7% goals for when on the ice.
With 124 individual scoring chances, and 71 individual high-danger chances in 53 games, he's a huge threat at even strength. He was also one of the few bright spots on a Habs power play that struggled mightily all year. He was better than good; in a word, he was phenomenal.
When I wrote about Gallagher for our top 25 under 25 series back in 2014, I opined that it is rather difficult to put a ceiling on this kid. Consider this; last year that 2.07 points per 60 minutes played at even strength put him at seventh in the entire league among right wingers. He's not just a top line winger, he's one of the very best in the entire NHL.
When you look at the numbers I've talked about so far, you might be tempted to say that he has found his ceiling, but not so fast. One number I didn't mention was his personal shooting percentage, which stood at 7.8% at even strength. His career average is 8.8%, so there is actually room for him to improve his production, and that would really be something given what he's already doing.
He's already the team's top right winger, and one of the best in the league. Think about the numbers that I've presented today, and think about the fact that he's signed at $3.75 million AAV for the next five years of his prime. With what he's bringing to the table, that contract is just delightful.
Give him 82 healthy games alongside Galchenyuk and Pacioretty next season, and there is no telling how good he could be. There is an argument for potentially using him on the second line to spread the offence out a little, but the idea of that line torching the opposition night in and night out is tantalizing to say the least.
I hope that all will join me in giving Gallagher an A+ for this recent season, because he was a shiny silver lining amid all the disappointment. The numbers back it up, he has become an elite NHL forward, and on a bargain deal at that.
Welcome to your Brendan Gallagher years.