The Case for Alex Galchenyuk

( Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Colorado Avalanche recently signed unrestricted free agent and journeyman forward Alexander Galchenyuk to a Professional Try Out (PTO). Galchenyuk, the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 draft, has been shuffled around from team to team after his six-season stint with the team that drafted him, the Montreal Canadiens. Since leaving the Canadiens, Galchenyuk has played for the Arizona Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, he has a chance to join the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. 

Galchenyuk is usually on the list of high draft picks that never amounted to their touted potential. There were a lot of questions surrounding his time in Montreal, including the fact that they did not let Galchenyuk play center and adequately develop as a center. There were also concerns over how Canadiens management handled some strife in Galchenyuk’s personal life. They famously made the forward apologize for being a distraction after it was revealed that he had been a victim of domestic abuse. Galchenyuk’s development woes were not all on him and certainly did not help his abilities as a player. 

He was widely considered a candidate for the newest member of the KHL when he signed a one-year deal with the Ottawa Senators. The Senators finished dead last in the Canadian Division that season. Even on a last-place team in the admittedly weak Canadian Division, Galchenyuk failed to regularly make the line-up. His career in the NHL appeared to be over when the Senators placed him on waivers, where the Leafs picked him up. 

While on the Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, Galchenyuk played exceptionally well, with 8 points in 6 games, which earned him a call-up. Galchenyuk slotted into the second-line wing position playing on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, two of the Leafs’ “core four”. There was an understanding that this was Galchenyuk’s shot. Then, the craziest and most unlikely of things happened; Galchenyuk played incredibly well. 

Galchenyuk became the default second-line left wing. Despite not being good in his own zone, Galchenyuk could keep pace and generate offense with Tavares and Nylander. While his numbers weren’t all that magical, he had 14 points in 26 games, which was far more than expected from a player who had only managed 1 point with the Senators. 

Galchenyuk’s time with the Leafs boosted his career; he was playing extremely well, despite a costly error during the first-round series against Montreal, and doing so in the biggest media market in hockey. He got a chance to show he still belonged in the NHL on the biggest platform in the sport and demonstrated that he could still be a top-six player. 

Although Galchenyuk expressed that he strongly considered re-signing with the Leafs, he had roots in Arizona, including a house. So, he took his newfound value and signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes. Throughout the 2021-22 season, the goodwill, image rehabilitation, and skill his time with the Leafs had given him seemingly petered out. Galchenyuk had 21 points in 60 games and was a healthy scratch multiple times. That time spent in the smallest media markets in the NHL and his less than exemplary play took away the value that Galchenyuk had garnered the previous season. 

This is what Galchenyuk’s underlying numbers look like: 

His numbers, to put it quite simply, are bad. With a 1% projected WAR, a 3% defensive WAR, and not even a high offensive upside to compensate, he does not appear like an NHL-caliber player, let alone a player capable of a top-six position. Just looking at his offensive numbers: his even-strength offense is below average, his finishing ability is pitiful, and he is not a player deemed capable of any minutes on special teams. The underlying numbers suggest that maybe Galchenyuk’s time in Toronto was a fluke and that he is not fit to play for an NHL franchise. 

However, sometimes underlying numbers, when a player has had many middling to bad seasons, can be misleading. Advanced statistics are the best way to evaluate a player’s ability, but there is something about Galchenyuk and especially his time in Toronto, that makes the numbers seem less telling. Galchenyuk was a 3rd overall draft pick for a reason; he has the capability of being a top-six player, as he demonstrated with the Leafs, and still has potential. His development into an NHL player went awry in Montreal, but that does not mean he stopped being a player with the talent of a 3rd overall pick. 

Galchenyuk played his best hockey since his time with the Habs when his NHL career was on the line, and he was playing with two top-tier players. Well, his career is back on the line, and when it comes to playing with top-tier talent, there is no better place to do it than with the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. The situation Galchenyuk will be placed in is very similar to the one he was in when he had success. 

So, while he might not seem that impressive by the numbers or on paper, Galchenyuk deserves a shot. If he steps up and performs as well with the Avalanche as he did with the Leafs, his status as a player on a PTO will quickly change to a player under contract. Many have been comparing this Galchenyuk move to the move the Avalanche made last off-season to bring in veteran defenseman Jack Johnson on a PTO. While Johnson was not a massive piece of the Avalanche’s success, he had a much better year than anyone expected in his reduced role with the team. Galchenyuk can be an excellent piece for the Avalanche if he finds the gear he found in Toronto. 

Give Galchenyuk a shot. Put him with a talented supporting cast and do everything you can to maximize his abilities. Do not expect him to be a penalty killer or a player who is particularly good in his own zone. If he is placed in a position to succeed, which the Avalanche have the personnel and resources to do, he might surprise the league and bounce back once again. 

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