Ever since the Montreal Canadiens drafted Alex Galchenyuk third overall at the 2012 NHL Draft, fans of the Habs have been wondering if the team has too many centers. Galchenyuk has been used primarily on the wing ths far in his two NHL seasons, but most would agree his size and skill is best used down the middle.
The Canadiens currently have David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller dressing as their top three centers. This leaves no room for Galchenyuk to get time in at his natural position. This is fine. For now.
There is nothing wrong with Galchenyuk getting his feet wet as a winger, before making the move to center when he is comfortable at the NHL level. Most Habs fans seem to think he could easily transition to first line center as soon as he returns from injury, but it is not that simple.
Playing center in the NHL is much different than playing left wing in the NHL, or playing center in the Ontario Hockey League. There is a much greater emphasis on defense and obviously face-offs for centers, and Alex may not be ready for that yet. Galchenyuk is doing just fine as a second or third line winger, and will get his turn as the number one guy on this team soon enough.
Just look at Tyler Seguin. The guy played on the wing almost exclusively his first three seasons with the Boston Bruins. Following his trade to Dallas, this is the first year he has been counted on as a first line center, and he is averaging a point per game over 44 games. Galchenyuk will be able to make a similar transition when he is good and ready.
Desharnais is signed for three more seasons, Plekanec is signed for two more and Eller is going nowhere, even though his contract is up this season. He is a restricted free agent, and will be retained for a long time as well. So the question is, when Alex does move to center, who moves to the wing?
Desharnais is performing well as the top center once again, as his chemistry with Max Pacioretty is showing. He is tiny and is not defensively adequate, but is a great playmaker. He only fits as a center on the top two lines. He can not play third line center, and he can not play the wing either due to his small stature and inability to shoot the puck.
Plekanec will never move to the wing. Period.
That only leaves Eller. Lars would make an excellent second line winger. His defensive responsibility and offensive ability would make him a perfect fit on Plekanec’s wing. In fact, many fans seem to think Eller’s age and two way game make him the heir apparent to take over Plekanec’s role in the future. What better way to apprentice under Plekanec than to play on his line for a couple of years?
Eller was thrown onto a line with Plekanec and Gionta during the dismantling that was taking place against the Ottawa Senators last night. It was a very short stint, but the line calmed a bit of the storm in the second half of the game, and ended up tying the game with a little help from Jared Cowen.
Eller looked fine on the wing, and could fit in well there whether he plays with Plekanec or Galchenyuk down the middle. Actually, a line of Galchenyuk centering Eller and Prust might be a perfect situation for Alex to get used to playing center in the NHL. The trio performed extremely well together last year with Eller at center, so wouldn’t they play similar with Galchenyuk in the middle?
The biggest problem with this is Eller is currently leading the Habs in face-off percentage. Could Eller play on Galchenyuk’s wing, but still take draws? Eller would use his big frame to win battles for pucks along the boards and in the corners, after taking a faceoff, while Galchenyuk would be given the freedom to roam the ice with the puck.
Just an idea to ponder Habs fans. Since Galchenyuk was drafted everyone seems to think a trade would have to happen to move one of these centers and get a big winger in return.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to put Eller on the wing? Much like Colorado has done with Ryan O’Reilly who plays on a line with Matt Duchene. They are both natural centers, and they are both outscoring all Habs forwards right now.
If the Habs were to move Eller to the wing when Galchenyuk gets back, they could throw together line something like this:
Pacioretty – Desharnais – Gallagher
Briere – Plekanec – Gionta
Eller – Galchenyuk – Prust
Bournival – White – Bourque
It is not a perfect lineup, just something I got to thinking might work when I saw Eller playing alongside Plekanec last night. I doubt the Habs will move Galchenyuk to center this year at all, but pondering this beats thinking about the disaster that led them to desperately move Eller to wing in the first place.