The Canadiens might have found the offensive spark plug that they have been lacking in recent years in Brendan Gallagher. The feisty winger, who was selected 147th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, is playing better every game. At just 5’9″, 175-lb (soaked wet), the Edmonton, Alberta native plays like a 6’2”, 220-lb power forward every night.
Similar to Brad Marchand, one of the most hated Boston Bruins players along with Zdeno Chara, Gallagher is not afraid to drive the net and create scoring chances for his linemates. Recently promoted to the team’s first line alongside sniper Max Pacioretty and playmaker David Desharnais, Gally plays the game with a fearless edge. Like Marchand, the smallish and feisty winger has a “nose for the net” and is blessed with very good hands and an accurate wrist shot.
After recording 44 goals and 33 assists for 77 points in 2011-12 with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, Gallagher made the transition to the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs during the NHL lockout. There, Gally notched 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points in 36 games with the injury-depleted Bulldogs. Invited to the mini-camp prior to the shortened season of 48 games, nobody thought Gallagher would make the team and play such a major role for the Eastern Conference leaders.
A healthy scratch the first game of the season, Gallagher made his presence felt on his first shift and recorded an assist in his first NHL game when Michel Therrien decided to insert him in the line-up. He has yet to look back since then. In 18 games this season, the dynamic right winger has scored 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points in 18 games (he missed three games with a minor concussion), along with a great +12 plus/minus rating. Currently on a three-game scoring streak during which he has recorded 1 goal and 4 assists, Gallagher was a nuisance and a pest against the Big Bad Bruins last night, directly leading to two third-period goals by his linemates leading the Habs to a very important 4-3 win on the road.
Gallagher is currently among the rookie leaders in almost every offensive category being 3rd in goals (6), 6th in assists (7), 3rd in points (13), 1st in +/- (+12), 6th in penalty minutes (19), 1st in game-winning goals (2), while being 43rd in time of ice per game (12:11 – minimum 8 games played)! Since being paired with Desharnais and Pacioretty, Gallagher’s ice time has increased to a little under 15 minutes per game which should translate to a much better offensive production until the end of season, giving him a real chance at winning the Calder Trophy awarded to the best rookie in the NHL.
But the young man contributes more to the team than points in a sheet of paper: he is getting very adept at getting under his opponents’ skin just like Brad Marchand does with the Bruins. The 5’9”, 185-lb left winger is not only a super-pest, he can also score goals in bunches. This season, Marchand has already 11 goals and 6 assists for 17 points in only 18 contests, after potting 28 goals and 55 points last season with Boston. If Gallagher can continue to play with an edge like Marchand while filling the back of the net, the Canadiens will have a precious gem in their hands for years to come.
Gallagher’s first NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils
Gallagher is a competitor, the kind of player Michel Therrien dreams about, because he knows that the youngster will give his 100% every shift, just like Brandon Prust, because of his great work ethic, his undervalued two-way game and his offensive prowesses. Gally11′s hard-edged, yet clean game is inspiring all his teammates, and it explains why the Canadiens are first in the conference and not last like in 2011-12. Compared to last season, the Habs don’t give up when they trail in games, as shown Saturday and Sunday against two Eastern Conference powerhouses when they managed to mount two comebacks, even though they lost in overtime against the Penguins.
Quickly becoming a fan-favorite in Montreal, Gallagher leads by example on the ice and is proving that you can be successful in the NHL by playing a clean, hard-nosed game despite a marked disadvantage in stature. His exemplary style of play and extraordinary talent could very well mean he becomes the first Montreal Canadiens rookie to earn the Calder Trophy since Ken Dryden earned it in 1971-72, or more than 40 years ago!