There is a danger in trying to evaluate Alex Galchenyuk given the way he is arriving in Pittsburgh, having been acquired for a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a fan favorite, and former core piece of the Penguins.
For one, he is going to be facing an uphill battle because of who is he is not, as opposed to who he is.
Overall, Galchenyuk is a fine player. He possesses a lot of the same flaws as Kessel defensively without possessing the gift of being an elite offensive player. That does not mean he is bad. He is a perfectly fine second-line forward that is a pretty good bet to finish every season with close to 20 goals and 50 points while maybe — maybe — possessing the ability to score closer to 30 goals in a random season if everything goes perfect for him. He did it once, but with each year that passes without it happening again it is beginning to look like an outlier.
But there is another danger that comes with Galchenyuk that is easy to be guilty of when trying to talk yourself into the return for Phil Kessel.
That, of course, is expecting his numbers to make a sudden jump just because he is going from a bad team without superstar centers to a good team with superstar centers. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 36 hours in discussing this trade, both online and offline, how often I’ve been told to expect his numbers to increase just because he will be playing in Pittsburgh.
Maybe that will happen, and I’m not saying it can’t.
It happened for James Neal when he came to Pittsburgh and experienced the best hockey of his career. That was also more than seven years ago and came alongside an in-his-prime and very much at his peak Evgeni Malkin.
It happened for Pascal Dupuis as his career was given a jumpstart when he had an opportunity to play next to Sidney Crosby for so many years. But again ... that was years ago when Crosby was younger and even more dominant offensively than he is today.
I am just saying you probably shouldn’t expect it to happen because even with those two examples of players that did improve dramatically, there are even more examples of players that did not.
At this point Galchenyuk has been in the NHL for six years and played 490 regular season games. That is a pretty big sampling of data and games and gives us a pretty good idea as to what he is as a player. There are not really any secrets at this point, and if you’re expecting a Crosby or Malkin type of boost to his production just keep in mind that players coming from outside the organization haven’t really experienced it when arriving in Pittsburgh.
We’ve heard it many, many, many times, and outside of Neal it hasn’t really happened.
History doesn’t lie.
Take, for example, when Patric Hornqvist arrived in Pittsburgh
In his first year with the Penguins Hornqvist saw a brief spike in his production, hitting the 0.80 points per game mark (an 0.10 increase from his final season in Nashville, which at that point had been his career high) in an injury-shortened season. Since then, his production in Pittsburgh has mirrored what he did in Nashville.
With the Predators: 363 games, 0.29 goals per game, 0.60 points per game
With the Penguins: 358 games, 0.32 goals per game, 0.65 points per game
Overall, the difference is about two goals and four points over 82 games. Hardly a significant increase over the long haul.
Remember David Perron?
On the day of the trade general manager Jim Rutherford even talked about him being a member of the Penguins for another seven or eight years if he fit in.
He never fit in.
Before Pittsburgh: 456 games, 0.25 goals per game, 0.60 points per game
With Pittsburgh: 86 games, 0.19 goals per game, 0.44 points per game
Even Phil Kessel himself, who was already one of the best offensive players in the league, was expected to see a boost next to Crosby (he ended up never really playing next to Crosby).
There was even talk he might score 45 or 50 goals in Pittsburgh.
His goals per game rate actually dropped in Pittsburgh.
With Toronto: 446 games, 0.41 goals per game, 0.88 points per game
With Pittsburgh: 328 games, 0.34 goals per game, 0.92 points per game
Even Tanner freaking Pearson...
With Los Angeles: 325 games, 0.21 goals per game, 0.44 points per game
With Pittsburgh: 44 games, 0.20 goals per game, 0.32 points per game
Even Chris Kunitz, perhaps the greatest argument ever for the “Crosby boost” had comparable numbers in Anaheim (0.28 goals per game, 0.64 points per game) as he did with Pittsburgh (0.30 goals per game, 0.68 points per game) over the course of his career.
Now, in some of these cases we are dealing with players that were older and going to see a natural decline just because of where they were in their careers. In Kunitz’s case he did have four of his five best point per game seasons in Pittsburgh alongside Crosby, while his overall Pittsburgh numbers were dragged down by the tail end of his career.
When Kessel and Hornqvist arrived in Pittsburgh they were each 28. Maybe if they had gotten a chance to play next to Crosby or Malkin a few years earlier when they were still at their peak levels of production they may have seen a bigger boost to their scoring. But if you look at their careers there is nothing to differentiate their production from their previous teams to what they did in Pittsburgh.
They continued to be what they were as players.
Probably the only argument you could make for the environment in Pittsburgh (system, talent around them) lifting their numbers is that because of their ages the fact they still maintained what they had done before was a sign that their production did, in fact, increase.
Maybe if Kessel or Hornqvist had remained in Toronto or Nashville they wouldn’t have maintained that level.
But if you are looking for a significant boost in a player’s production it just does not happen all that much with players coming from outside the organization.
You also have to take into account that Crosby and Malkin are now getting into their mid-30s and are not producing for themselves the way they once did.
Long story short on Alex Galchenyuk: He is a pretty good player that is probably going to continue to be a pretty good player and nothing more. If I were a betting man, I would say he finishes the 2019-20 season with a perfectly normal and expected 20-goal, 50-55-point Alex Galchenyuk-type of season.