Tape2Tape: Did the Canadiens Ruin Alex Galchenyuk?

To ruin something is to reduce to a state of decay, collapse, or disintegration. We often talk about how players, coaches or teams can specifically ruin their respective careers or seasons by being unable to put it all together at once and get into the winning column. But it isn’t as often that we discuss a specific team and how they may or may not have ruined a players career.

Enter Alex Galchenyuk. The third overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Montreal Canadiens – he was seen as an offensive threat who put up 61 points in 33 games in his final season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.

Alex Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk wasn’t horrible in Montreal, he was an average NHL player. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“We had our eyes on him all along,” said Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin after taking the Russian-American in 2012. “I met him a few times and I was impressed. He’s a very worldly guy.” (from ‘Canadiens land globetrotter Galchenyuk with third-overall pick’, Montreal Gazette – 06/22/12)

That was then. Since then, Galchenyuk has played for three teams – including the Canadiens. He’s had relative success in, sometimes, questionable opportunity with his most successful offensive season coming in 2015-16 as a member of the Canadiens when he scored 30 goals and 56 points in 82 games.

So what happened?

Galchenyuk Lost Confidence

Drafted as a center, Galchenyuk never really adapted to the position at the NHL level and the Canadiens brass wasn’t afraid to make it known to the player or the media. And while Galchenyuk did show glimpses of the offensive prowess he had in junior, he lack of wherewithal to play the position he was drafted for certainly came as a disappointment to the franchise.

“Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin felth this way and expressed it publicly on numerous occasions over the two years leading up to his decision to finally part ways with the player he drafted third overall in 2012,” wrote Eric Engels on Sportsnet back in 2018. “Former Canadiens coach Michel Therrien felt this way up until he was removed from his position in February of 2017. And current Canadiens coach Claude Julien agreed, from the day he took over from Therrien to the day Galchenyuk was traded to the Coyotes.”

Arizona Coyotes Alex Galchenyuk
Even with Arizona, Galchenyuk had a hard time playing center. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ross D. Franklin)

Even when Galchenyuk got to the Coyotes, it stint at center didn’t last long – getting moved to the wing by coach Rick Tocchet after producing zero goals and three assists in 13 games.

“I think moving to the wing will get his feet moving,” said Tocchet in the same Engels article on Sportsnet. “I don’t think he’s been getting his feet moving because he’s been watching, wondering, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ When you think where to go, what’s the first thing you do? You slow down, you don’t anticipate, you don’t react.”

Related: Penguins Get a Cheaper Kessel in Galchenyuk

And his steady decline was evident in his numbers as well. After reaching his career-high 56 points in 2015-16, Galchenyuk dropped to 44 points in 61 games the following season, and followed that up with 51 in 82 games and 41 in 72 games during his only season with the Coyotes.

Now it isn’t only about his confidence. Throughout his short career, the 25-year-old has had a number of stints on injured reserve which has cost him in both missing games and recovery time.

Can He Battle Back?

It weighs on a player, being a minus-50 over the past two season combined and finding himself in and out of the lineup at times. While Galchenyuk has had three full seasons under his belt in which he didn’t miss a game, there have also been three seasons in which he’s missed 10 or more games.

Forget what it does to a player’s psyche not being around the team or getting to suit up with his mates, but the time it takes to get his footing back and get into game shape can play a major role in the development and production of a player as well.

While we have seen glimpses of brilliance from Galchenyuk – flashes of what he was able to do in junior – he’s never really been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. Hence his second relocation in just two seasons.

Now, at first glance, the Coyotes may have won this trade – getting a pure goal scorer in Phil Kessel. But this is an opportunity for Galchenyuk to play alongside some of the game’s best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (when he returns from injury).

Pittsburgh Penguins Alex Galchenyuk Evgeni Malkin
In Pittsburgh, Galchenyuk will have the opportunity to play with some elite-level players. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

That said, Galchenyuk will need to stay healthy as well for that to happen. He’s played just three games so far to start the new campaign and has two assists in those three games. However, he – like many other Penguins this season – remains sidelined after a bad allergic reaction to a spider bite. It’s almost as if nothing can go right for the kid.

Still, the shift to Pittsburgh should be a fresh start and a new opportunity for the young forward to find that magic he displayed during his junior career. Galchenyuk has an opportunity to change the narrative that has seemingly followed him from Montreal to Arizona and show that he is, in fact, a player that was picked deservedly with the third overall selection.

Related: Galchenyuk’s Usage Crucial to Penguins Trade Payoff

Wherever the lack of confidence may have started – whether it be in his shift from center to the wing or the comments made public by his former GM Bergevin – the fact is that Galchenyuk now holds his own future in his hands.

At 25, he has a whole lot more hockey to play and depending on whether or not he can let go of his stint in Montreal, it will dictate just how fans and the hockey world remember the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Tape2Tape, The Hockey Writers, NHL
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Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on delivering some opinion to hockey’s biggest fans. Whether you agree or disagree, we would love to hear your thoughts.