Back in the summer of 2012, Alex Galchenyuk took the stage at Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) after the Canadiens selected him third overall in the NHL Draft. Possessing size (6-foot-1, 207 pounds), strong skating ability and a lethal lefty shot, Galchenyuk was considered a future high-end scoring threat at the next level.
Seven years later, Galchenyuk is headed back to Pittsburgh having shown glimpses of that potential, but also having plateaued in his mid-20s. The principal player acquired in the Phil Kessel deal has been traded during two consecutive offseasons (the Canadiens shipped him to the Coyotes in June 2018 for Max Domi), with his offensive production having tailed off after a 30-goal campaign during his age-21 season. A quasi-reclamation project for the Penguins, Galchenyuk will look to get back to his 30-goal form while, interestingly, possibly filling the role that Kessel often held on Evgeni Malkin's wing.
Galchenyuk is coming off a 2018-19 season in which he averaged 0.57 points per game, the second-lowest rate of his seven-year career (he had 0.48 points per game as a 19-year-old in 2013-14). When he was on the ice during five-on-five situations, the Coyotes generated -2.5 percent fewer shots, -2.1 percent fewer scoring chances, and -9.7 percent fewer goals compared to when he was off the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. That marked the third consecutive season in which Galchenyuk had negative marks in those categories. With Galchenyuk skating, the Canadiens generated -3.3 percent fewer five-on-five shots, -5.1 percent fewer scoring chances, and -7.9 percent fewer goals in 2017-18. In 2016-17, Montreal had -4.1 percent fewer shots, -6.5 percent fewer scoring chances, and -6.4 percent fewer goals with him on the ice.
It wasn't always that way. Earlier in his career, Galchenyuk had a really positive effect on his team's puck possession and scoring totals. With Galchenyuk skating at even strength, the Canadiens boosted even-strength shots by +2.7 percent in 2014-15 and +2.5 percent in 2015-16. He helped to increase scoring chances by +7.8 percent in '14-15 and +2.5 percent in '15-16. Same deal with goals (+4 percent in '14-15 and +7.6 percent in '15-16). That's the kind of player Montreal expected when they took him third overall, then signed him to a three-year, $14.7 million contract extension before the 2017 season.
So what changed?
For one thing, he has made more questionable decisions with the puck. Galchenyuk averaged about 1.5 giveaways per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time during the 2014-16 seasons. Since then, he has averaged about 2.2 giveaways per 60 minutes. His shot selection is an issue, too, as Galchenyuk took about 47 percent of his shots from either the faceoff circles or the area directly behind that in 2018-19. During his higher-scoring days with the Canadiens, he took about 35 percent of his shots from those areas of the ice that yield fewer goals than those taken closer to the net.
His defense, never considered a strong point, has been Kessel-esque. Opponents averaged about 29 shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five play with Galchenyuk on the ice during the 2014-16 seasons, and about 33 shots since then. Scoring chances against have increased from about 25 per 60 minutes with Galchenyuk skating to about 29.
With Galchenyuk's game suffering a bit on both sides of the puck, his Point Share total has plateaued. Point Shares is a Hockey Reference stat that measures how much a player's offensive and defensive production counts in the standings. Galchenyuk peaked at seven Point Shares back in 2015-16. Since then, he has posted marks under five per season -- less than the Point Share totals posted by the man he was traded for (Kessel), and less than the guy the Penguins initially tried to acquire for Phil (the Wild's Jason Zucker):
Everyone knows that the Penguins had limited leverage in dealing Kessel. In acquiring Galchenyuk, the Penguins save some cap space (he makes $4.9 million, compared to $6.8 million that Kessel would have been owed), gain contract flexibility (he's a free agent following the 2019-20 season, while Phil is under contract through 2021-22) and have the opportunity to rehab a player with offensive potential who's still in his physical prime. If Galchenyuk can resemble Kessel more with the puck, and less on defense, the Penguins could have a solid winger for Malkin.
• Appreciating Orpik: Brooks Orpik recently called it a career, concluding a 16-year NHL tenure that included two Stanley Cups (2008-09 with the Penguins, 2017-18 with the Capitals) and a legacy as one of the better blue liners to ever suit up for Pittsburgh. Orpik was your classic stay-at-home defenseman -- he scored all of 11 regular-season goals and had 132 points in 703 games with the Penguins -- but he managed to account for the seventh-most Point Shares in Pittsburgh franchise history at his position. With 28.5 point shares as a Penguin, Orpik trails only Randy Carlyle (35.7), Sergei Gonchar (38.6), Larry Murphy (41.4), Paul Coffey (42.7), Ron Stackhouse (54.3) and Kris Letang (83.1). No one would ever confuse him for a star, but Orpik made a difference during his decade-plus in town.
• Justice for Gonchar: Speaking of Gonchar, he recently missed out on a chance to join the Hockey Hall of Fame. That's an oversight that we hope will be rectified in 2020. Gonchar, who spent five seasons with the Penguins (2005-2010) and currently is an assistant coach for the club, ranks 16th all-time among defensemen in points (811) and 15th in Point Shares (141.9). Every player ahead of him on the career Point Shares list, with the exception of the still-active Zdeno Chara (143.8), is enshrined in Ontario. The average career Point Share total among Hall of Fame defensemen who played all or the bulk of their careers during the modern era (1967 to present) is about 134. He's worthy.
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