That’s the Canadiens position in the middle of the month of August. Six weeks ago, Bergevin was saying he didn’t have any idea when or even if Galchenyuk would ever be an NHL centre.
In the interim the Canadiens brain-trust has decided that, after three seasons it’s time for their 21 year old number one draft choice to assume the role for which the Canadiens drafted him. Whether Bergevin and Michel Therrien feel the same way in the middle of the month of December remains to be seen.
Galchenyuk has always had the skill level to be an NHL centre. What he has lacked is the self-confidence to go head to head against the league’s best defenders. At the age of 21, it’s apparent that Bergevin and Michel Therrien feel it’s time to give him a full shot. And with Galchenyuk at centre the Canadiens now may have depth at a position that has been notably thin for the last decade or more.
At the end of last season’s playoffs the Canadiens centres were Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller, and Torrey Mitchell. All are returning and Galchenyuk brings the number to five with minor league centremen Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto knocking on the door.
The training camp challenge for Therrien and his coaching staff will be to now sort out what has become a centre ice log jam a problem any head coach will tell you he’s happy to deal with. The possibilities are many.
Some think, because Plekanec is entering the final year of his contract and is going to be 33 at the end of October, he is trade-bait. I would be surprised. Plekanec is coming off a terrific season which included a career-high 26 goals and the third highest points total of his career (60). Beyond offense he plays the Canadiens toughest defensive minutes and his leadership is never be underestimated. It will take more than one player to replace what the things he brings to the table.
Some think he could be moved to left wing. I’m not one of them. His size makes me think he’s best utilized as a centre but I’ve always felt that he has carried the role as first-line centre only because the Canadiens have never had few alternatives. How would the Canadiens depth look if Desharnais centred a third line behind Galchenyuk and Plekanec? He would still need wingers to take advantage of his playmaking skills.
Because Therrien has not hesitated to shift him to a wing on occasion, Eller is the number one candidate for change should the need arise. That said, Eller had a good season as a centre last season which included a major improvement in his faceoff statistics (51.7%) and zone starts. He still is limited offensively. Ultimately, depth may force him back to left wing.
Bergevin signed Mitchell to a three year contract for a reason. He’s replaces Manny Malhotra as the fourth line centre and provides a somewhat greater offensive upside. Will log fourth line minutes and supply strong defensive game. As a role player he’s not likely to be unseated by any of the others.
Any coach will tell you, having too much talent is a wonderful thing. While the Canadiens defense is fairly stable, there are any number of story lines surrounding the potential makeup of the forward units. The residual effects of the announcement of Galchenyuk’s move to centre along with the off-season additions of wingers Zack Kassian and Alexander Semin as well as the upward pressure forward prospects such as Mike McCarron, Nikita Scherbak and Daniel Carr are going to present an infinite number of possibilities to consider throughout training camp.
At the same news conference Bergevin also told reporters that the team will name a team captain at the conclusion of training camp. Last season the Habs used four alternate captains including Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban. Pacioretty seems to be the name most mentioned as the successor to Brian Gionta who left the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2014.