Brendan Gallagher couldn’t have asked for a better first year in the NHL.
The 21-year-old made the Canadiens out of training camp and was a dynamic figure in Montreal’s turnaround season, posting 28 points in 44 games and earning a Calder Trophy nomination as the Habs went from a 15th-place team in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to second overall, winning the 2013 Northeast Division banner.
Now all that’s left for Gallagher is the encore — something he’s already started preparing for.
“Did I take time off to celebrate?” Gallagher replied when asked about enjoying his Calder nomination, as per The Province. “We were out in the first round of the playoffs. There was nothing to celebrate.”
It’s the kind of mentality needed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
Several rookies — Calder nominees especially — have fallen on tough times in year two. Adam Henrique, a nominee in 2012, saw his points-per-game average dip to 0.38 (he posted 0.69 in his rookie year, when he scored 51 points in 74 games). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, another ’12 nominee, scored just four goals in 40 games last season after potting 18 in his rookie campaign.
Gallagher will face a similar challenge next season. He, like the Canadiens, exceeded expectations in 2013, meaning there’s a strong possibility of falling back to earth. There’s also his relative lack of size — 5-foot-9, 170 pounds — and the rigors of an 82-game schedule, as opposed to the lockout-shortened 48.
(He didn’t get through the shortened season unscathed, missing a handful of games with a concussion.)
It’ll be interesting to see what role Montreal head coach Michel Therrien plays in all of this.
There were some concerns he was shielding (or, over-shielding) Gallagher last season — check out this piece from Hockey Prospectus on under-used forwards, or this Habs Eyes on the Prize post about OT usage.
In the playoffs, Therrien went on a classic deflection/diversion rant, claiming Gallagher was “being abused” by Ottawa (Gallagher had a forgettable first round, scoring just two points in five games, finishing minus-7.)
That said, Therrien knows he doesn’t have to protect Gallagher from too much.
“The biggest reason why he’s had success is he works so hard, he goes to those places, those dirty places that he knows he’s going to get whacked, but he’s getting rewarded,” Therrien said earlier this season. “He’s a kid that’s always on the puck and he brings a lot of intensity to our team and we just love the way that he plays.”