I’m a retired teacher and I am used to talking a lot – or at least I used to be. One of the first things I noticed after my retirement from being in front of classrooms of university students was just how quickly my voice went away. I didn’t notice it when I was not speaking much, but the odd time when I had to speak to a group for more than 10 minutes my voice would just disappear. I’d get croaky and hoarse and could barely be heard.
What’s This Have to Do with Alex Galchenyuk?
So, what does this have to do with Alex Galchenyuk? When Galchenyuk came into the NHL, he had great skills. Going back to reviews of Galchenyuk in 2012, you see this small collection of comments from scouts:
“Galchenyuk is an offensively creative player and is very intelligent around the puck. When he puts the effort in, he can really control the pace of the game and can change the speed of the game. With his offensive side, when you are able to do that kind of stuff with the puck, you don’t get a lot of players with that potential to be dominant.” (International Scouting Services Head Scout Ross MacLean)
“Galchenyuk has elite skills and marries it with a competitive streak that is unrivalled by his peers. In addition to his scoring exploits, as he was the highest scoring 94 in the OHL last season with 83 points in all 68 games, he is an incredibly smart-two player. He simply hates to lose, and his training regime is second to none as he is very committed off ice.” (McKeen’s Hockey’s Scouting Director David Burstyn)
In short, Galchenyuk was a skilled playmaker, a good passer, could stickhandle well enough to carry the puck in tight spaces, had good on-ice vision, was a strong-enough skater, and could shoot the puck with accuracy.
Galchenyuk then went on to prove these skills were actually present with the Montreal Canadiens and scored 30 goals in 2015-16. He averaged nearly 20 goals a season during his time in Montreal. But he was playing regularly.
When the Maple Leafs Picked Him Up, They Sent Him to the Toronto Marlies
When the Maple Leafs traded for Galchenyuk after he cleared waivers this season, the organization immediately moved him to the Toronto Marlies for what they called “skills” training. Why would the team do that with a player who entered with so much skill in the first place? Because, like a teacher’s voice that weakens when it’s not used, NHL hockey players’ skills erode when they aren’t being put into game situations where they can be practiced.
That’s what I believe happened to Galchenyuk. At 27-years-old, it wasn’t so much that Galchenyuk lost his skills; it was more that he didn’t get much game practice. The fact is Galchenyuk simply wasn’t used very much during his last two seasons. With the Marlies, he worked hard on his “reps,” his confidence, and the Maple Leafs’ system. He began to get up to speed in the AHL. However, even when he hit the Maple Leafs’ lineup, he still hadn’t had many practices or been with the team.
Practice or Not, the Maple Leafs Liked What Galchenyuk Brought
Still, his re-emergence became one of the nice stories of the Maple Leafs’ season. In fact, during his postseason media interviews, general manager Kyle Dubas spoke well of Galchenyuk, noting that he was a “great story. He came in as a player who had never played in the American League as a top-three overall pick. He came in, put in a ton of work with the development staff, just absolutely worked his butt off every day, and contributed to our group.”
Dubas went on to speak of Galchenyuk’s playoffs when he “had a great game in Montreal in Game 4, and credit to him for that. It is just so fresh with him — he hasn’t been here for long — but there is definitely some interest in having him return.”
That was Dubas’ point. Galchenyuk simply wasn’t with the team very long. And, the fact was that he didn’t light it up on offense. In 26 games, he only scored four goals and four assists (for eight points). Those are decent numbers but not even up to Galchenyuk’s standards over his last few “disappointing” seasons. But it’s also not much of a surprise.
What the Maple Leafs Could Have in Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk is an offensively-gifted player who’s already proved himself to be highly skilled. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the first-round pick (third overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has scored 140 goals and 193 assists (for 333 points) in 583 career games. Recently, he’s been doing that while averaging less than 15 minutes on the ice per game. Last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota Wild, he averaged only 12 minutes per game. This season with the Ottawa Senators even fewer. Still he produced.
Although Galchenyuk might never be able to drive his own line, he doesn’t need to with the Maple Leafs. However, he still could be a useful compliment to either the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner line or the John Tavares and William Nylander line. Imagine what he might do with increased minutes, increased confidence, and skill-rebuilding.
I Expect the Maple Leas Will Offer Galchenyuk a New Contract
Galchenyuk is currently on an expiring contract for $1.05 million. I’m hoping Dubas offers him another one-year contract under $1 million and that Galchenyuk re-signs agent. Failing another huge contract offer from a team other than the Maple Leafs, I imagine that will be the outcome.
If he signs with the Maple Leafs, Galchenyuk seems assured to play top-six minutes. And, if that happens and the two top Maple Leafs’ line can click, Galchenyuk might even score near 60 points during the 2021-22 season.
I think it’s worth an opportunity for both Galchenyuk and the Maple Leafs. The way I see it, contracts for the 2022-23 season will be higher because there will likely be a salary-cap increase. Can’t hurt to be coming off a solid season.
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