It seems odd to say that a player with back-to-back 30-goal seasons is underrated in the modern NHL, and yet that is the case with the Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher.
Known as the heart and soul of the Montreal lineup, his effort on the ice has never been called into question. Even when recovering from multiple hand fractures, he was a presence on every shift.
With his recovery all wrapped up, and his shooting mechanics changed — maybe for the better — Gallagher rebounded from a dismal 10-goal year to post 31 goals in 2017-18, smashing his old career high of 24.
After a tumultuous off-season one year ago, there were questions about who on the Canadiens was going to score goals with Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty both traded. It was somewhat of a disservice to Gallagher to ignore his nose for the net. While Max Domi grabbed the headlines with his impressive season, quietly Gallagher notched 33 goals and helped form one of the NHL’s best lines with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar. With training camp a month away, it still seems like people from around the league don’t want to give the Montreal winger his due.
Over the past two seasons, Gallagher ranks seventh in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five (1.32), trailing only names like Alexander Ovechkin and Auston Matthews in that regard. This past season in the same category, Gallagher finished fourth (1.55).
Adding more context to that stat, of Gallagher’s 33 goals, 28 were at even strength. It is the same amount as Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl produced, while being just behind Tavares and Jake Guentzel.
That is great company for Gallagher to be in, and he does it without the benefit of being a generational talent, or playing every single night with one (Phillip Danault may also underappreciated, but he’s no superstar).
Yet when discussing the top wingers in the league, Gallagher rarely gets a mention.
Being perennially unheralded isn’t a new thing for Gallagher. In the year he was drafted, he was in the midst of three consecutive 40-goal seasons in the WHL. Normally that level of play makes you a surefire first-round pick.
We all know how the story goes, however. He fell to the fifth round, and Montreal grabbed him at 147th overall. Since then, he has the fifth-most goals, and 10th-most points among his draft class, one that includes talents like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Mark Stone and Vladimir Tarasenko. Keeping pace with those players, even through two broken hands is impressive.
Gallagher probably won’t continue to progress all the way to becoming a 50-goal-scorer, but if the Canadiens can sort out their man advantage there is no reason that he can’t flirt with the 40-goal mark this season.
For one thing, he gets into the right spots. When he is on the ice, the Canadiens’ offence becomes an absolute hornet’s nest to combat. This is something fans have noticed even without the benefit of advanced metrics: If the puck is around the opposing net, it is more than likely that you’l find Gallagher in the vicinity.
Whether people want to admit it or not, Gallagher is becoming one of the NHL’s best players on the wing. He drives play in the offensive zone, piles up scoring chances every single night, and keeps pace with the NHL’s elites in goal-scoring rates. He won’t ever be a flashy star, or one with laser guided shot, but he is as effective a player around the net as any of his peers.
Claude Julien and the Canadiens know what they have in him, but it’s time for the rest of the NHL to take notice of the diminutive forward. It’s in their best interest to recognize how commanding his game is on a nightly basis.