On June 22nd 2012 the Montreal Canadiens used the 3rd overall selection in the NHL entry draft to take Alex Galchenyuk from the Sarnia Sting. The following are a sample of quotes after the selection was announced:
“Alex Galchenyuk, A+. The Habs get a solid, big centreman who can skate, make plays and score goals...A great selection if you are a Habs fan and plenty of reasons to be optimistic going forward.” - Taylor Shire, Bleacher Report
“Galchenyuk has excellent offensive skills, vision, hockey sense, character along with a deep desire and commitment to be
the NHL's best player. He has high-end offensive talent to go along with a strong work ethic and a willingness to pay attention to the defensive side of the game.” - Hockey Futures
“Right now, we're very happy. It's like Christmas Day and Santa Claus arrives.”
- Trevor Timmins (Habs Director of Player Development)
Watching Montreal fans talk themselves into thinking they have the next Beliveau or Lafleur every draft, only to claim “I knew we should have taken so and so” 3 years down the line is as constant as death and taxes. But in this case it’s worth exploring how we went from the #3 overall selection (who had it not been for a knee injury in his draft year likely would have gone #1) to a 26 year old journeyman on his 4th team in 16 months.
After making his debut as a true rookie during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Galchenyuk increased his point totals year after year culminating in a 30 goal 2015-16 season. The following year, he was on pace to set a new career high in points by opening the year with 23pts in 24 games before a knee injury derailed his season. A dry spell to end the year (as well as a coaching change which resulted in him being moved up and down the lineup) slowed him down a bit but he still finished with a career high 0.72 points per game.
Galchenyuk bounced back the following year playing all 82 games and finishing with a respectable 51pts. But it became evident that new head coach Claude Julien coveted a different skill set, which made Galchenyuk expendable in the Max Domi deal. From there he bounced around from Arizona, to Pittsburgh, to Minnesota, before landing in the Nation’s Capital on a 1 year, $1.05M deal.
From a strictly contract-based standpoint, this signing is a home run for the Sens. You can’t get much lower risk than a 1 year, $1.05M deal in terms of length and AAV. If the Sens like what they see, they can look at extending him at the end of the year (and, at only 26 years old, he fits the mold of a young rebuilding squad), or let him walk. There’s also the extremely likely scenario (given the low term and value of the contract) where Dorion flips Galchenyuk to a contender at the trade deadline for assets. Whatever path they choose, the Sens have options for multiple scenarios this season which is never a bad thing.
The one area that detractors of the signing continue to harp on is that this means Galchenyuk likely takes a spot that fans were hoping would go to one of the Senators young prospects (take your pick of Batherson, Formenton, etc.). While in theory that could potentially stunt a prospect’s development, that also assumes that the prospect in question is mentally, physically, and emotionally ready for a full NHL season. This is especially true coming off the most bizarre end of year/offseason in league history where COVID wreaked havoc on development leagues and training camps world wide. The last thing the Senators need is to rush another player to the show when they’re still not quite NHL ready (feel free to take a moment and reminisce about your fondest Curtis Lazar memory at this point). Not to mention that the Sens aren’t ready to compete for a title at this stage of the rebuild anyways.
We could sit here all day debating the merits of giving a prospect their long awaited shot at a coveted roster spot vs. taking on another reclamation project. But rather than have Galchenyuk take a valuable roster spot away from a young player, we could split the difference and strive for some addition by subtraction. As much fun as trying to form an all-Russian line of Dadonov, Abramov, and Anisimov would be (think of the nicknames we could have: The Iron Curtain, the OV - Three, the possibilities are endless) does it not make the most sense to have Anisimov watch games from the press box this year? Keep him around to skate with the Black Aces, and in case of injury or a Galchenyuk flame out. But if you can sit there and say with a straight face that you’d rather have another season of the known quantity that is Artem Anisimov vs. rolling the dice on Galchenyuk potentially regaining his 30 goal form then we were clearly watching different teams last year.
Ultimately, if you’re expecting the signing to “put the Sens over the top” you’ll be sorely disappointed. Galchenyuk is not the missing piece to make Ottawa a Stanley Cup contender. What he is though is a 26 year old NHL caliber forward, 4 seasons removed from a 30 goal campaign, here on a dirt cheap 1 year deal, who can be flipped for assets at the trade deadline if he doesn’t pan out. And that is a gamble that most will agree is worth taking.