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Alex Galchenyuk's development, and Montreal's' lack of talented wingers

The young sniper found himself on the wing for the majority of the year, but it didn't necessarily hurt his development

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Bergevin sent the Habs fan base into hysterics when he proclaimed that Alex Galchenyuk may never develop into an NHL centerman.

This statement was met with a chorus of frustration, as worries regarding Galchenyuk's development arose. Are the Canadiens ruining his development? Why isn't he progressing? He should be a centre!

Let's take a look at Galchenyuk's progression throughout his very young career. The outlier in Galchenyuk's first three seasons comes from year one (2012-13), when the Habs were actually playing a very strong puck possession game, during what happened to be a shortened season due to the lockout.

galchenyuk

From year two to year three Galchenyuk saw a notable jump in production, however it it turns out that Galchenyuk's least productive line in terms of goals for was when he was playing on the wing with Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec. In fact, his most productive line was when he was placed between Max Pacioretty and Gallagher, which lends some credibility to the theory that he can handle first line centre duties, even if the sample size is quite underwhelming.

gally lines

(source http://www.cs.unb.ca/)

As you can see, the most potent line came from the Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher trio, scoring two extra goals per 60 minutes of even-strength play than when Galchenyuk was centering the line.

Playing on the wing is less complex than playing down the middle, but as it stands Galchenyuk is clearly a better play maker than David Desharnais.

gally desharnais

(for an explanation of the metrics used in the table above click here, created by Ryan StimsonSpencer)

All signs point to Galchenyuk being a quality player, one that's been progressing well enough to attempt the next big step: playing down the middle.

The main issue isn't Galchenyuk's lack of defensive awareness, nor his young age, but the current roster makeup of the Canadiens. If you remove Galchenyuk from the left wing position, which happens to already be a weak spot for the Habs, there's a glaring hole that appears. You could slot Lars Eller back to the wing, but he's done a fantastic job taking over from Plekanec's impossibly hard defensive assignments, which is a position that I'm not quite convinced Desharnais could fulfill adequately.

Unless the Habs are planning on using Charles Hudon in a top-nine role, or they manage to acquire a quality winger, the idea of moving Galchenyuk down the middle may not be feasible. The Canadiens simply don't have enough quality wingers at the moment.

I'm a firm believer that he'll eventually find his way into a centre position with the Habs, however as it stands his progression is relatively encouraging on the wing, and his presence on the second line gives Montreal a much more balanced top six.

We may see Galchenyuk start the year as a centre, or he may find his way back to the wing, but regardless of his deployment we shouldn't press the panic button in regards to his development. The reality is that he turned 21 in February, and is coming off a 20-goal season. The only thing standing in his way to play down the middle seems to be the opportunity, and of course the lack of high-end wingers on the Canadiens' roster.