Will Alex Galchenyuk's encouraging start change Maple Leafs' deadline plans?

Justin Cuthbert
·5 min read

To put it kindly, expectations were modest when the Toronto Maple Leafs spent what's become a low-level prospect to acquire Alex Galchenyuk last month.

It was that way because the 2012 third-overall selection of the Montreal Canadiens, who once scored 30 goals and flirted with 60 points on multiple occasions, was drowning in his professional hockey life. Property of seven different teams for various intervals — many of them short — across points over the last four seasons alone, Galchenyuk had reached the level where he was unwanted.

You couldn't blame even the most excitable fans of the first-place franchise for barely flinching at the news of his acquisition, deciding first to get off jokes as the Egor Korshkov era ended. Plus, it seemed like Galchenyuk was only really an option due to his location on the right side of the Canada-U.S. border, and the fact he wouldn't have to endure a lengthy quarantine process just to arrive.

Although it's a small sample size, Alex Galchenyuk has filled one of the biggest holes on the Maple Leafs heading int othe NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Although it's a small sample size, Alex Galchenyuk has filled one of the biggest holes on the Maple Leafs heading into the NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

For his part, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas didn't do much to encourage enthusiasm among the masses. Galchenyuk was quickly stashed in the minor leagues with the Toronto Marlies, who were just getting up and running at the time, with the basic idea being to "stabilize" the former impact forward.

It seemed like Dubas believed that Galchenyuk needed to be rebuilt, that the veteran of well over 500 NHL contests needed to relearn the game, or at least rethink his role, in order to make it back one day. Yet, having accepted his demotion in stride and responding on the ice with a dominant six-game stint with the Marlies, there was not just a sudden need for forward help with the big club, but an opening in the Leafs' immensely talented top six when Jimmy Vesey failed to slip through waivers on March 17.

And in this small sample, Galchenyuk has already showed more promise than the player who had to exit for the opportunity to be created — or anyone else who the Leafs have experimented with on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, for that matter.

The numbers have been tremendous with Galchenyuk sharing the ice with Toronto's second-highest-priced forward duo. In over 30 minutes at five-on-five across segments of four games, the Leafs' second line is earning a blazing 65 percent share of the shot and shot-attempt volume, while amassing 81 percent ownership of scoring chances and 83 percent of the expected goals, as calculated by Natural Stat Trick.

More importantly, the reunion between the three after Wayne Simmonds started with Tavares and Nylander on Saturday sparked a comeback in an important win over the Leafs' hard-charging North Division counterparts, the Edmonton Oilers.

Galchenyuk had assists on both third-period goals for the Leafs, scored by Tavares and Nylander, including this highlight-reel dish to the captain:

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This sort of highlight is Galchenyuk at the best of his abilities. What's been most impressive in his four-game trial with Toronto, however, and what might keep him in the lineup and with Tavares and Nylander specifically, has been his work, or work rate, off the puck.

Galchenyuk has been able to provide some of the unspectacular utilitarian qualities that Zach Hyman has so famously delivered wherever he goes, using speed and tenacity on the forecheck to win puck battles and create 50-50 opportunities to recover possession.

That effort is what's caught the attention of his new teammates most.

“He’s the hardest working guy on the team right now,” said Jake Muzzin, who would be considered as credible as any source inside the Leafs room. "You know it’s contagious when you see a guy working like that, you want to continue working.”

If Galchenyuk can maintain this standard, continuing to help extract more even-strength contributions from the tandem of Tavares and Nylander, there would be no reason for Sheldon Keefe to pull him from the lineup. He's shown just as much promise and potential as any forward the Leafs have tried with Tavares and Nylander — a list that includes Joe Thornton, Alexander Kerfoot, Alexander Barabanov and Ilya Mikheyev, in addition to Simmonds and Hyman.

Plus, Galchenyuk's place within the team has only been strengthened by the fact that another depth forward, Travis Boyd, followed Vesey to Vancouver after being placed on waivers himself.

So perhaps the question isn't over whether not Galchenyuk will remain with the Leafs, but whether his breakthrough will change the way the Leafs approach the trade deadline.

Late last week, it became a little easier for Dubas to carry out his mandate of adding an impact forward before the NHL-imposed team-to-team transaction cutoff on April 12 with the Canadian government agreeing to reduce the quarantine period from two weeks to seven days.

That means there is only less resistance now for Dubas, who was recently on the record stating that he's willing to move a top prospect to improve his club before the deadline.

Presumably, Dubas wouldn't need to part with a Rasmus Sandin, Nick Robertson or Rodion Amirov to fill a hole deeper in the lineup, be it up front or on defense.

Which means a major splash, it seems, would come at the direct expense of Galchenyuk.

Given that it's only been four games, it might be too early to determine that Galchenyuk is the fix for the one major issue that has persisted for the Maple Leafs this season when it comes to the forward mix.

But what he has done to this point has earned more time to prove that he can spare Dubas the considerable expense of either Sandin, Robertson or Amirov.

It would be massive for the Maple Leafs to avoid that without concession.

But as it big as it would be, it would be bigger for Galchenyuk.

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