The Montreal Canadiens have been a pleasant surprise this year around the league, looking like a serious contender in the Eastern Conference to this point.
It’s taken a variety of factors to get them to this point, particularly on defense. But they wouldn’t be where they are right now if it weren’t for the play of a couple of rookies: Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Neither one may put up numbers that would put them ahead of the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau in the Calder Trophy conversation, but they’ve both been key early on.
Coming off of surgery, there were concerns over whether or not the Habs made the right move in selecting Galchenyuk third overall in last summer’s draft. At this point, it’s probably safe to say that those concerns have been put to bed.
As this season has gone on, Galchenyuk has gotten better. He has 13 points in 26 games this year, and survived the deadline when players must be sent back to juniors, if they’re eligible. Since that deadline passed and Galchenyuk was cemented in the lineup, it’s been all up hill.
He’s seeing more opportunities over the course of a game, routinely getting three or four shots per game, when he was getting nothing early on.
Gallagher plays a different style, but has still been a key to the Habs’ early season success. Gallagher is small, standing just 5’9″, but he plays much bigger than he is. Not only is he successful as far as stats go, with 16 points on the season so far, he’s the type of personality that gets under the skin of opponents. Without taking too many penalty minutes (just 22 PIM in 21 games).
It’s difficult to say that one of these guys is more crucial to the success of the Canadiens. If you’re looking at who’s going to be the elite player down the road and will take home some serious hardware over the course of his career, then it’s Galchenyuk. But guys who can get under the skin of opposing teams, while putting up numbers are also extremely valuable. Look at what Brad Marchand‘s making these days ($4.5 million cap hit).
In short, they both should continue to improve as the season wears on and should each be a key factor in whatever the Habs achieve this season, in one way or another.