Although they are approaching the playoffs and in good standing, it seems that the Montreal Canadiens are far from establishing what they want their full lineup to look like. They still a revolving door on the bottom defensive pairing as well as the fourth forward line.
Neither of those rotations are major points of concern, as they are simply depth moves that don’t have much ability to hurt the team. The most crucial experiment lies with the top three forwards in Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk. Ever since those three returned to playing on the same line, their production declined.
Many seem to blame Galchenyuk for this, citing his incomplete game as a centre a detriment to the two wingers. He now finds himself on the left wing on a line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lekhonen.
Fans and media are very divisive over this decision. Some believe that Galchenyuk will never be a centre while others like myself believe that he is the key to that position.
Marc Dumont went on TSN 690 Thursday morning to present a few statistics to justify his superiority as a centre. One, he leads the team in points since Claude Julien's return as head coach. Two, his points per 60 minutes of ice time has increased. Although one main issue right now with Galchenyuk that shot control numbers went down, but we have yet to see if a transition to the wing is going to fix that. And it’s also worth noting his goal scoring rate has been halved since Julien’s arrival.
A Few Lost Years
Like many young players, he needs to learn how to maximize his skills within the team's systems. Despite this being his fifth season in the NHL, let's not forget that this was only his first starting the campaign as a centre. When we put that into consideration, it becomes more clear as to why he struggles in faceoffs and on defence.
Despite the desire to teach him how to play in the NHL, four years playing at a different position from the one he was selected to develop into just doesn’t make sense.
His best moments in the NHL came as a centre. Last season, he scored 30 goals, with the majority coming while he was playing down the middle. Although the lost season played a part in that production, we cannot discount the move to centre as a key factor as well. To start this season he was producing near a point-per-game pace as a centre, where the lost season excuse does not hold water.
Possession numbers are more important for some teams than for others. If you're like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Pittsburgh Penguins with an immense amount of talent in your lineup, you don't need consistent possession numbers to give you a chance because your talent and depth can turn a game around when it needs to.
For the Canadiens, having strong possession numbers is important because with a forward corps that scores more through grinding and crashing the net, getting those shot attempts are crucial to receiving secondary opportunities.
It's true that Galchenyuk has one of the weakest unblocked-shots-for percentage among forwards, at 49.90%, but he also has a superior ability to convert on the chances he receives.
The first piece to this puzzle is on right wing, and Brendan Gallagher could be the ideal fit there. Both players came into the NHL at the same time and there was an instant chemistry and friendship between them. With Gallagher slowly finding his game, he could be one to help Galchenyuk do the same.
As for the left side, who better to help complete Galchenyuk's trio than Paul Byron, who has hit a career-high 20 goals? His speed and tenacity would allow the centre to take more time to find a good spot on both sides of the ice.
Byron and Gallagher are currently playing together with Tomas Plekanec but they have a better offensive potential with #27. Galchenyuk's best possession numbers come with those two, at 53.88 Corsi-for percentage.
Looking to the Near Future
Despite the opinions presented, one can understand what Julien is trying to do. If Galchenyuk can find some confidence playing a simpler game, when the time comes to move him back to centre, he can play like he did before. The hypothesis for the reason he and Shaw are together is so that they can switch places on wing and at centre whenever need be.
The Canadiens will need Galchenyuk at his best when the playoffs come, or we can probably say goodbye to the hopes of a long playoff run. There’s almost no way a team with Tomas Plekanec & Phillip Danault as the top two centres will win the Stanley Cup. Galchenyuk has shown the ability to produce well from the middle of the ice, and finding an alignment where he can comfortably play there offers the best chance at success.
Where should Galchenyuk play?
This poll is closed
Put him back on the top line and let him adapt to centre over the final games of the regular season
Move him back to centre, but on the second line
I want to see what happens with this Galchenyuk-Shaw-Lehkonen line
Galchenyuk should be considered a winger going forward