Much of the chatter in hockey circles these days focuses around the games best and most eccentric players like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Nikita Kucherov. Among these storied names, few seem to be talked about as much as former number three overall pick Alex Galchenyuk. The former Canadiens forward was seen as one of the most dynamic prospects in the 2012 NHL draft, a true center with game-breaking playmaking ability, and the future of the Canadiens franchise.
Given where Galchenyuk sits now, a free agent with no contract signed almost a month into free agency, some may feel his career is winding to a close at just 28 years of age. Due to his hype, many also forget just how good Galchenyuk was in his early days with Montreal. Debuting in his first pro season, Galchenyuk had 27 points as a rookie in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Seeing as he was still only a teenager, his less-than-incredible production was easily forgiven. However, he would take some time in his development, finally breaking out in 2015-16 with a career-high 30 goals and 56 points in 82 games.
Although that breakout performance was still not at the ceiling many hoped he would reach, it was an encouraging step forward. But, those looking for more wouldn’t find it. Galchenyuk would put up 44 points in 61 games the following season and 51 points in 82 games after that. The young forward was consistent and a quality top-six forward, but still wasn’t as billed and following the 2017-18 season, he was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes, which would begin a career of bouncing around the NHL. Galchenyuk regressed to 41 points in 72 games with Arizona. Following 2018-19, Galchenyuk would spend time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs (including time in the AHL), finally returning to Arizona for the 2021-22 season.
This past season represented something of a turnaround for Galchenyuk, playing in 60 games, all with the Coyotes. However, he still couldn’t return to his previous level of production, tallying six goals and 15 assists, four of the goals coming in a single five-game stretch in February. Now a free agent with seemingly little interest, the forward awaits an opportunity to once again prove himself.
2021-22: 60 GP, 6G, 15A, 21pts, -11 rating, 32 PIMs, 89 shots, 13:09 ATOI
Career: 643 GP, 146G, 208A, 354pts, -77 rating, 253 PIMs, 1,266 shots, 14:52 ATOI
Considering his likely price-tag, discussed below, Galchenyuk could find a home in any of the 32 NHL teams in theory, however where he is most likely to find a spot is presumably in one of two groups: those in the basement and those married to the cap ceiling. For those teams currently rebuilding, Galchenyuk represents something of an upgrade, and if the forward can rebound, they may be able to deal him to a contender closer to the deadline for an asset. If not, the team is rebuilding and doesn’t have to commit to him any longer than they wish. Galchenyuk could merely be a roadblock for one of that team’s prospects or young players, but for some rebuilders, they may prefer to let those players continue their development in juniors, college, the AHL, or overseas as opposed to a struggling NHL roster, Galchenyuk then becoming a reliable placeholder at the least.
The other option could be a contender up against the salary cap. With his recent struggles, it’s fair to wonder why a contender would want to give Galchenyuk a roster spot. However, this team would more likely than not need a player playing at the league minimum, and if the preference is to give that spot to a veteran who has played, and performed, at this level before, as opposed to a younger, less polished option, then Galchenyuk would be a fit.
Coming off a 21-point season as a former 30 goal scorer with seemingly little to no interest at this point in free agency, a tryout with an invitation to training camp is probably Galchenyuk’s best bet for his next contract. If he impresses in training camp, he could easily turn that tryout into an NHL contract. Another benefit to this option is that teams that may not have particular interest in Galchenyuk could invite him to camp and allow him to open eyes around the league as other teams who may not have considered him gain places on their roster due to poor performance or injury. If the veteran is able to find a guaranteed contract this offseason, it’s very unlikely it would be for anything more than the league minimum.
Given his situation, the best option for Galchenyuk would not necessarily be the best contractual option, but a situation where he could succeed and begin the process of becoming the player he was with the Canadiens several years ago. A reunion with Montreal, who are currently rebuilding and could look to add veterans to their group as their young prospects develop, is an intriguing proposition, given that is where the overwhelming majority of Galchenyuk’s NHL success has come.