One of the topics that is going to get flogged like nobody’s business over the next short while, and in fact already is, is whether or not the crown jewel of the Canadiens’ prospect pool, Alex Galchenyuk, should be in Montreal now or whether he should remain in the junior ranks for the duration of the 2012-13 season.
In my view, there are more negatives than positives to him being in Montreal. For starters, the pressure on any high pick in Montreal is immense. What happens in the stands, on call-in shows and on the internet when Galchenyuk goes through 5 or even 10 games with only an assist to show for his work? Factor in a fan base that is getting increasingly impatient with the Cup drought that will soon celebrate it’s 20th birthday, and the kid already has two strikes against him – and he hasn’t even taken a faceoff yet! Yes, the new administration may do a better job of managing expectations and protecting him from excessive scrutiny, but let’s not hold our breath. Galchenyuk shouldn’t be the guinea pig for these things.
Speaking of faceoffs, are most fans even aware that Galchenyuk, the projected saviour to the Habs decades-long vacuum at center, is not even playing center this season in Sarnia? Nor did he play center with the gold-medal-winning U.S. under-20 hockey team. It’s downright silly to think that a kid can simply shift from wing to center in the big leagues on a whim – even a player as talented as Galchenyuk.
There are those that say that if he’s ready, let him play. If he makes the Canadiens a better team today, then he has to be in Montreal. Those would be fair points if the Canadiens played in a city like Columbus, where expectations are virtually non-existent, attention is minimal and consequences are lean to put it kindly. I believe it would be far better for him to start a season fresh, with a full training camp with the Habs under his belt. As it stands, he’s already played dozens of OHL games, as well as a handful of World Junior Championship games. Young players often hit the wall during a long season…why put Galchenyuk in a situation where he’ll have to log well over 100 games should the Habs make the playoffs? It doesn’t make sense to me.
The Habs finished an embarrassing 15th place in the East last year – 28th overall in the NHL. Most Habs fans can’t remember the last time that happened. They want atonement for this, and they want it yesterday. That pressure should not have to ride on Galchenyuk’s shoulders. Dominating peers in the OHL is one thing. He needs a year to compete against men. And he needs to do it in a situation where his every move won’t be documented and picked apart by ravenous fans and media. From all appearances, it looks like Marc Bergevin has built a staff that will do its best to ensure that young players are cared for properly and are given the tools required to get by in the Montreal hockey fishbowl. But let them test their new ideas and and safety nets on somebody other than the most important prospect to enter the Habs system in years.
The issue of where does he fit is also not a point to be overlooked. Can Bergevin fit him under the cap? I’m sure if he squeezes really hard, he can do it. But with Subban yet to be signed, and the Habs already in a cap crunch situation, it seems superfluous to bump somebody already on a one-way deal to make room for him. And then there’s the small matter of where he plays. If he’s not playing in the top six, is it really worth it? He’s not going to break up the Desharnais, Cole, Pacioretty line, and putting him on the wing with Plekanec and Gionta may sound alright, but then Galchenyuk becomes the dog playing fetch. Talk about throwing an already inexperienced hockey player to the wolves! This sort of baptism by fire is just begging for Galchenyuk to get hurt. It’s a perfect situation for injury for a kid who has never played a professional hockey game against grown men.
For this year, it’s best to leave Galchenyuk in Sarnia, where he can learn what it’s like to dominate, to lead and to be depended upon in situations that are not life and death to thousands upon thousands of jittery Habs fans. Galchenyuk may very well be ready for life as a pro in Montreal, that, however, should not prevent the Habs from sending the message that they are serious about protecting their youth and committing to developing them in the proper way.
This blog post is lovingly dedicated to one Stevo Farnham, who would normally write about this himself (and who’s work I regularly read, as should you), but like the smart guy that he is, decided to save himself the trouble of writing a blog post that pretty much everyone else is writing. The joke’s on me, Steve!