Alex Galchenyuk has played nearly 20 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The pending free-agent who was acquired this summer in the Penguins trade of Phil Kessel was off to a good start in training camp but an injury cost Galchenyuk momentum. He returned to his same top-six position in the lineup with Evgeni Malkin but couldn’t hold it as the Penguins searched for offense and he searched for his game.
Friday, yet another injury carved out a piece of the Penguins lineup when Bryan Rust suffered a lower body injury which has ominous undertones. Despite the Penguins desperate need for offense Friday night, coaches slotted Galchenyuk on the fourth line with Sam Lafferty and Juuso Riikola.
Lafferty will be back in the AHL when the Penguins get healthy (IF the Penguins ever get healthy), and Riikola is a defenseman doing yeoman’s work for his team. The line played sparingly and for the second consecutive game, Galchenyuk played less than 10 minutes. He also rode the pine for long stretches in the Penguins thrilling comeback win over Vancouver on Wednesday.
So, the situation seems to be–Sullivan must give Galchenyuk more ice to get his legs and hands back, or GM Jim Rutherford must consider another Penguins trade involving him, but for a piece which the coaches will use in the depleted lineup.
Having a nearly $5 million free-agent-to-be toiling on the fourth line while the team loses yet another offensive weapon to the trainer’s room is a waste for both. Friday night in Columbus should have been a no brainer to move Galchenyuk up the lines. Without Rust, there was a spot open. Brandon Tanev missed about 20 minutes in concussion protocol, which opened up a spot.
But Galchenyuk’s demotion stuck.
Do not misread this column as a criticism of Mike Sullivan. The PHN Report Cards have not been favorable to Galchenyuk since he returned from injury earlier this month. He’s been upfront and forthright about his struggles. PHN greatly enjoyed our small chat with him. He scored his first Penguins goal the following day.
Things Not Improving
However, the situation has gone backward not forward since Galcnenyuk scored his first goal.
The Penguins lurch towards fast, gritty and honest hockey counts Evgeni Malkin as one of the participants of the new-and-improved style. Unfortunately, Galchenyuk is still a winding country road when the Penguins want to be a north-south highway.
As such, despite the Penguins need for offense against both Vancouver and Columbus, they reduced one of their most naturally skilled players to a spectator.
The team has already accrued its value from the Kessel trade with the addition of the rededicated Evgeni Malkin and a revamped style of play without stragglers or dissent. Despite Galchenyuk’s incongruity, the player is earnestly trying hard. And he loves the game.
“It’s not because of a lack of effort,” Sullivan said when defending Galchenyuk when PHN asked about frustration and Galcnhenyuk getting over the hump.
The 2012 third overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens has had his share of coaches who were not enamored with his game. First Galchenyuk played for gruff former Penguins boss Michel Therrien. Claude Julien, who is no creampuff, followed Therrien in Montreal and was hard on Galchenyuk, too.
Surely, there must be a team or a coach who wants to tap into the 30-goal ability which Galchenyuk showed a few years ago. Or even the 20-goal ability he showed last year when he scored 19 markers despite missing 10 games and adjusting to a new system.
Perhaps that team is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps it is they who want Galchenyuk but fourth-line minutes even when trailing and needing offense is not a good indicator. It’s a good time for a decision. It appears the Penguins forwards will be down another important piece for more than a few days. If Galchenyuk isn’t a piece to help fill that void, perhaps another Penguins trade is in order.