May 22, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Montreal Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk (27) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the New York Rangers during the overtime period in game three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Galchenyuk should play top center next season

Yesterday I talked about why Lars Eller should play in the teams top six. It came down to his versatility, age and ability to succeed with any type of winger while, of course, making them better. Today I am going to tackle why I believe Alex Galchenyuk –whom I refer to as Galchy, not Chucky– should be used in the top center position next season, despite popular belief.

As stated in my last blog, GM Marc Bergevin has noted that this team is not yet to be considered a perennial playoff team. I believe any team without an all-star center that has a major injury down the middle could easily fall out of the playoff race. Toronto backs me up with this point when non-allstar Tyler Bozak is injured the team falls. Imagine Columbus making the playoffs without Ryan Johansen?

In Montreal’s case they are fortunate to have selected the top center and future all-star center in the 2012 NHL draft in Galchenyuk.

Now for my argument:

I took a look at  all the top center’s taken in their draft class from 2008-2013 and compiled their P/G for their first season in the NHL — All of which played their first year. In Galchenyuk and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins case I used first 2 years because of their games played.

Alex Galchenyuk will suit up for Team USA at the WJHC.

Alex Galchenyuk will suit up for Team USA at the WJHC.

08)Stamkos: .58 P/G(79 GP)
09)Tavares: .65 (82)
10) Seguin: .29 (74)
11) RNH: .76 (102)
12) Galchenyuk: .51 (113)
13) MacKinnon: .76 (82)

Four of these centers were thrust into the top 6C role within the first couple months of them playing in the NHL and two of them were stuck playing in the bottom six wing. Can you guess which two? Answer: Seguin and Galchenyuk. The two who just so happen to have the lowest P/G on the list.

Okay so points isn’t everything, right? Obviously these two players are taking their time learning “the right way to play” or “the system”.

Let’s look at the four players that were relied upon at top 6C from day one;

Stamkos is on almost everybody’s top five NHL players list. In his first season he only scored .58P/G in 79GP while playing in the top 6 and he found himself a healthy scratch at times. He learned to play the “right way” from the position he was drafted to play and is now a superstar.

Tavares had a bit better of a rookie season but took an extra season before becoming the perennial all-star that he is today. Though, like Stamkos, he learned to play the system and “the right way” from a top 6C position.

RNH had a very successful first two seasons until injury. His vision and ability to control the offensive zone are exactly what Edmonton wanted when they drafted him but because his team is terrible the Nuge hasn’t gotten to the level of the previous two. Still, he has learned to play the teams (ever changing) system and “the right way to play” from the top 6.

MacKinnon started the year on the third line –with very talented wingers that could be top six on other teams– but with his success and injury to the teams top C’s he found himself moving into the big minutes soon after. He was then the teams most used forward come playoff time. Mackinnon sucked at face offs and was prone to giving up turnovers but soon found himself comfortable and, like the others, learned the right way to play from a top 6 position.

Now for the other two:

Seguin had by far the worst P/G of the group. He was uncomfortable playing on the wing in Boston. He played three years on the wing learning their system and the right way to play before ultimately being traded to Dallas because his production wasn’t strong enough to over-shadow his “attitude”. Funny enough Seguin’s years of learning to play the right way didn’t translate to Dallas. Seguin was thrust into 1C for the first time in his career and, like Mackinnon in Colorado, was a turnover machine and sucked at face offs. By the end of the season Seguin had 84pts in 82 games, looks like one of the premier players in the NHL, and was even considered to play for team Canada at the Olympics. Seguin wasted years of prime production away by playing wing in Boston.

Galchenyuk has only played 113 games in the NHL and although some have been at center, most are on the wing. Bergevin and co. took over this team in 2012 and for their first big move drafted Galchy 3rd overall –despite playing less than 10 games the previous year– as a promised top C in the NHL. Galchy made the team the following season but because the Habs organization wanted to make the playoffs they went with their three centers they were most comfortable with for the majority of the season leaving Galchenyuk as the odd man out. The following year was much in the same as the Habs went with their most comfortable C’s while forcing Galchenyuk on the wing “learning the right way” to play until he is “ready”. Despite being projected as a player whose vision and on-ice intelligence are in a class like Steven Stamkos, Galchenyuk has only shown glimpses of that in his limited ice time so far.

In conversation with fellow Habs bloggers, fans or media members, most believe Galchenyuk is not quite ready for top 6C yet. Why? Their answers always go along the lines of the opposing competition and high minutes or that their are more reliable C’s on the team.

Excuses.

If there is one reason Galchy isn’t ready for top C it is because he hasn’t been given a chance to play as top C. Like all the top centers taken in their drafts Galchenyuk is an super-talented player who should be given the chance to reach top potential from day one.

Galchy is not a winger who needs to bang and crash in the boards or make power moves into the middle of the net. He is a talent player who uses the middle of the ice, his vision and on-ice smarts to find open teammates and shooting lanes. He is not a player who needs to work his way up the organization learning “the right way to play”, he is a player who, with his hockey smarts, can learn the right way to play from the 1C position.

In my opinion Galchenyuk could have already been an above P/G player in the NHL if he had learned chemistry with top winger Max Pacioretty. But because it hasn’t even been attempted, it is still like he is at day 1.

Galchenyuk will not be as reliable as Desharnais or Plekanec right away. He will definitely make more mistakes than both of them would. However, he has the ability and smarts to overcome adversity and become that 1C he should be by the end of the next season.

Every game number 27 plays at W he becomes less familiar with C. Every game he is away from C he becomes less confident in his game. One more year at wing is cutting another year into his prime.

Bergevin knows this team is not yet ready to win the Stanley Cup so why doesn’t he make the right moves to put this team into a position to win as soon as possible? A few losses now can turn into a cup win sooner.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Yesterday’s blog

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Tags: Alex Galchenyuk Analysis Montreal Canadiens

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