2016-17 Canadiens Season Review: Alex Galchenyuk’s tale of two seasons

Inconsistent usage and production plagued the skilled forward following his knee injury.

A year ago, Alex Galchenyuk seemingly cemented his place as the top centre the Canadiens envisioned him to be. After a 30-goal breakout season, the pressure was on to become an elite NHL forward.

He started off on the right foot, spending time among the top 10 in NHL scoring, with 23 points in 24 games at the start of the year. He showed immediate chemistry with newcomer Alex Radulov, and was key to Montreal’s great start to the season.

However, a knee injury in December and a re-aggravation of that same injury in late January caused Galchenyuk to miss 21 games, and it completely torpedoed his year. Long dry spells, such as having only three points in the Canadiens final 10 games of the regular season, as well as being juggled endlessly around the lineup, resulted in him finishing the season with 44 points in 61 games played, a 59-point prorated season. He finished 30th in the NHL among centres for points per game (0.72).

Galchenyuk’s metrics tell of the same complicated tale, and the turning point in his year is clear.

Prior to the injury Galchenyuk was easily one of the best Habs players. His 52.5% relative Corsi-for percentage was third among forwards, and while he was on the ice the Canadiens controlled 54.3% of the scoring chances. He led the team with an impressive 2.26 points per 60 minutes.

Following the injury his CF% dropped all the way down to 48.3%, and his scoring chances dropped below 50%. Worst of all, his production was clearly on a downward trend, slipping to 1.34 P/60.

The biggest impact was felt in the goals department, as he saw his fantastic pace of 0.75 goals per game cut in half.

Galchenyuk dealt with both the emergence of Phillip Danault being the most trusted centre and taking the top line role, as well as a mid-season coaching change, which had him finish the season in Montreal’s bottom six. This even involved playing on the fourth line with Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen shortly before the playoffs began.

His situation became even more complicated as Claude Julien came back to Montreal. At first, he was placed on the top line with Radulov and Pacioretty, but was quickly demoted. He was also placed on the wing, often on a line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen.

In the playoffs he started on the fourth line, with Claude Julien stating “in my estimation, it’s not who you play with, it’s how you play.” Julien does seem to understand the skill level of his young centre, but the new coach shares the hesitation his predecessor Michel Therrien had in terms of trusting Galchenyuk in defensive situations, especially when the game is close.

The Future

Galchenyuk’s immediate future in Montreal seems to be a controversial topic as of late, as Marc Bergevin stated that for the time being he’s a winger.

This will have a trickle-down effect on Montreal’s roster, forcing Danault or Tomas Plekanec into the #1 centre spot. Obviously, this situation isn’t ideal for the Canadiens, but Galchenyuk has seemingly hit a plateau in his defensive development, especially if the Canadiens are not willing to let him learn at that position.

The pressure is already immense on the 23-year-old, as the hope is that he finds consistency in his game, all the while not being given much consistency in terms of deployment. His longest stretch with the same linemates came towards the end of the year: eight games on the wing alongside Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen.

He still has much to learn, especially defensively, but seemingly not much time in which to learn it.

Galchenyuk is arguably the most skilled forward on Montreal’s roster, and continues to show his flashes of brilliance, both when it comes to being a setup man or when the Canadiens need a clutch goal. He scored five overtime goals this season, becoming the franchise record holder for most OT goals in a single season, with help from the new 3-on-3 overtime format.

Regardless of where he is in the lineup, Alex Galchenyuk is a vital part of the Canadiens roster, as he brings an extraordinary amount of creativity to the table, and his offensive ceiling has yet to be discovered. The Habs have the pressing issue of scoring, and Galchenyuk can definitely provide that, as he has throughout his career.

A full training camp under Julien could do him wonders, as he could regain his coach’s confidence, and perhaps gain a more stable foothold in the lineup. But Julien must give him a certain amount of trust and leeway for him to accomplish his offensive goals, and hone his defensive game.

Grade Galchenyuk’s season


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