The Montreal Canadiens eagerly drafted Alex Galchenyuk third overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, which coincidentally was in Pittsburgh. Scouts viewed Galchenyuk as the top center in the draft with playmaking skills, size and a world of potential. Seven years later, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be Galchenyuk’s third NHL team, and doubt surrounds his potential as a legitimate scoring threat.
The hockey gods cursed the top of the 2012 NHL Draft. Nail Yakupov was the top overall pick and is long gone from the NHL. Ryan Murray was the second pick, and Griffin Reinhart was the fourth overall pick. Murray and Galchenyuk have earned NHL paychecks, but neither has become stars like the players drafted behind them, including Morgan Reilly (5th overall) Jacob Trouba (9th overall), and Filip Forsberg (11th).
And yes, the Penguins snagged Derick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick obtained by dealing Jordan Staal to Jim Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now conducted an exhaustive video analysis session of Galchenyuk (Read it here). Independent of opinions, hope, and expectations, we were able to identify the arc of Galchenyuk’s game last season, which was his first with the Arizona Coyotes. Head coach Rick Tocchet’s influence on Galchenyuk was noticeable later in the season. As Arizona made a run for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Galchenyuk’s game began to resemble a power forward.
However, the transformation was not complete.
Arizona was desperately seeking offense, but Tocchet only deployed Galchenyuk for about 13 minutes per night. That’s an acceptable ice time level, but not one which belies being a top-six forward. And thus, peering into the crystal ball for Galchenyuk is not an easy task. The Penguins are full of veterans or experienced players who have reached a level of consistency.
What Did the Pittsburgh Penguins Acquire for Phil Kessel?
What is or who is Alex Galchenyuk remains a legitimate question. GM Jim Rutherford did fantastic work to get anything for Kessel who was soft on the ice but sandpaper to coaches. The point-per-game player wanted to go to Arizona and effectively limited the Penguins options beyond the desert.
Galchenyuk, 25, and defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph was a strong get by Rutherford despite the circumstances. Galchenyuk will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he clicks with the Penguins, the team has the opportunity to keep him around. If he does not build upon his work in the second half of last season, he’ll be nothing more than a forever footnote in Penguins history brought up in barstool discussions.
In 79 games last season, Galchenyuk scored 19 goals with 22 assists but was a minus-19. Eventually, he settled with center Nick Cousins who is not an offensively gifted center. In a twist of fate, Arizona took a chance by acquiring Jordan Weal from Philadelphia. Weal paired with Galchenyuk who exploded in February, but Weal’s stat sheet (1g, 1a) in 16 games did not reflect the impact.
Weal was traded to Montreal at the end of February and Galchenyuk again cooled.
Prediction: This is Galchenyuk’s chance. As PHN reported several weeks ago, coaches are leaning towards putting the left-handed Galchenyuk at RW with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins top line. If Galchenyuk can’t make that work, he may have a fall back option with Evgeni Malkin, as the Penguins lineup has a plethora of forwards but only a few who regularly light the lamp. The Penguins are somewhat stuck with Galchenyuk in the top-six unless he falters and the Penguins again use a rotation of players such as Bryan Rust and Dominik Kahun.
This season may also be Galchenyuk’s last big chance. He makes $4.9 million. No team will again pay for the potential of the Milwaukee native unless he produces points this season. Galchenyuk’s career-high was 56 points with 30 goals in 2015-16. He hasn’t eclipsed the 20-goal mark since.
PHN will straddle the fence slightly. We don’t expect a breakout for Galchenyuk, but we’ll also be surprised if he flatlines.
22 goals. 30 Assists. Even plus/minus. 75 hits.
And a lot of internet talk the Pittsburgh Penguins need Phil Kessel.