At his most recent press conference, Marc Bergevin said that Alex Galchenyuk would be playing on the wing next year, the experiments playing down the middle now over.
Keep in mind that the general manager is firmly into the negotiation game with a former first-round selection and 30-goal-scorer due a new contract, so we don’t know what the actual plan for Galchenyuk may be. So far, they’ve played him at the left wing when not at centre.
It seems that the team recognizes Galchenyuk’s playmaking ability by putting him on his natural side. So far they have not tried him as an off-wing triggerman, but he has shown that he could succeed in that role with his strong one-timer. For me, he either plays centre to set up the offence, or the right wing to finish it off.
Looking back to the 2011-12 season, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Erik Cole had a tremendous offensive year. At that time a certain Jacques Martin and later Randy Cunneyworth sheltered that line a lot. They were able to make the most of the opportunity and we can say that it was from that moment that Pacioretty became an elite goal-scorer.
Why couldn't the same work with Galchenyuk? The main criticism seems to be that he can't win faceoffs, but is winning faceoffs a niche skill that only fourth-liners can learn? The team needs goals, and finishing in the middle of the pack in that area as they did this season isn’t going to cut it.
What does the position shift mean for the lineup?
If you use Galchenyuk where he would benefit your team’s offence the most, he should play the right side. So now the list of right-wingers in the organization becomes: Galchenyuk, Alexander Radulov (if he’s re-signed), Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Torrey Mitchell, Michael McCarron, and Nikita Scherbak.
Two of Shaw, McCarron, and Mitchell will need to play at centre.
The lines would become:
No matter which permutation of the current centre options you plug into the top three lines, none of Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec, and Shaw is a true offensive threat.
One of the prospects that has a shot at joining next year’s forward corps is Charles Hudon. He is a natural left-winger who had some stints at centre with the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL, and is an offensive-minded player.
Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron can hold their own defensively, but I can't see how Hudon would jump over them to play on the second line.
The overall impact
Putting Galchenyuk on the wing might create more problems than it solves. You would have to give his line a sheltered deployment, while also finding ways for the other top-six line to thrive offensively.
Then what do you do with the rookies ready to join the team? Give them same treatment they have been relegated to in recent years: harsh fourth-line deployments that inevitably end in disappointment when the player can’t score? At the end of the year the opinion will be, yet again, that there’s nothing in the pipeline, and somehow nearly every draft the team has made in recent years wound up being a bust.
By sticking with Galchenyuk at centre on a sheltered line with a rookie (Hudon or Scherbak) and another young forechecking player with offensive instincts (Gallagher or Lekhonen), you could get an offensive line that would reap more from its five-on-five minutes, even if that meant the actual time on ice of the players needed to be reduced to accommodate the deployment.
Or you could play him on the left, Gallagher on the right and Shaw or Plekanec in the middle and blame each of those players for having a poor season. It’s rare that you see a winger having double the points of his centreman. It's all about grouping together players based on talent, finding complementary skill sets, and giving them the deployment they need to put them to use.