Penguins Predictions: What is Alex Galchenyuk’s upside?
This isn’t the kind of thing a general manager would trumpet about the marquee piece he just acquired in a deal for a three-time all-star winger, but it’s something Jim Rutherford easily could have said when he picked up Alex Galchenyuk in the Phil Kessel deal in June.
Galchenyuk is a nice, safe addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins attack.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Galchenyuk has played seven seasons in the NHL and averaged between 0.48 and 0.72 points per game in each of them.
He’s scored between 17 and 19 goals each of the past three seasons. He’s netted exactly nine power-play goals in three of the past four years. He’s scored at least 10 even-strength goals in each full season he’s played.
Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they’re a solid baseline. The chances the Penguins will look back on the trade and consider it a colossal mistake are slim.
What the Penguins are hoping for, of course, is that Galchenyuk takes those baseline numbers and leaves them in the dust.
It’s happened before. The 30-goal, 56-point season Galchenyuk turned in with Montreal in 2015-16 stands as a tantalizing glimpse of the player’s upside.
“Alex has scored in the past,” Rutherford said in June. “He’s very capable of scoring goals and if he plays to the level he’s capable of, he should be a guy that contributes a lot of goals.”
That’s a much sexier thing for a general manager to say.
Alex Galchenyuk has averaged 18 goals and 42 points per season in his NHL career. This season, his numbers will be:
A. Better than average
Galchenyuk is coming to an environment that is much more conducive to scoring than he’s used to. The Montreal teams he played on were built around goalie Carey Price and rarely visited the top half of the league offensively. He commonly played with Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec. He was moved from center to wing and back. Last year, Arizona was a decidedly defensive club. With the Penguins, Galchenyuk will be asked to simply play on Evgeni Malkin’s wing and score some goals.
B. Worse than average
While stapling a winger to Malkin’s hip sometimes produces James Neal, it also sometimes produces Sergei Plotnikov. In his last year in Montreal, Galchenyuk’s most frequent center was Jonathan Drouin, a supremely talented player. When they were on the ice together at even strength, the Canadiens were outscored, 36-12. This chemistry business is not an exact science.
C. About the same
While it’s tempting for the Penguins to look at Galchenyuk’s consistent numbers over the past few years and call them his floor, perhaps it’s his ceiling, too. It’s entirely possible that a 20-goal, 45-point winger is what he is now and always will be. His even-strength numbers could get a boost playing with a proven scorer like Malkin, but his power-play numbers could take a hit because he’ll be less of a focal point on special teams than he has been in the past.
A. Better than average
Galchenyuk has a couple of intangible factors working in his favor with the Penguins. First, his age. Despite being in the league for seven years, he’s only 25. It’s a common age for goal-scoring wingers to have a breakout season. Second, his contract status. Galchenyuk is in a walk year. Derick Brassard notwithstanding, that usually lights a fire under a player. Finally, the pressure’s off. Like Kessel before him, Galchenyuk won’t be asked to carry the Penguins, just complement them. It looks like a formula for success.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .