Seth Jones is not the only returning player worth watching as the Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.
While the Blue Jackets will see their Norris-caliber defenseman make his season debut, Alex Galchenyuk will finally play his first regular-season game for the Coyotes.
Late in the preseason, Galchenyuk suffered a lower-body injury that sidelined him on a week-to-week basis, forcing the slick scorer to miss Arizona’s first seven games. The concern was that, once again, the Coyotes would begin the season on a down note. With a 2-5-0 record and, somehow, just 11 goals scored through seven games, such concerns ended up being justified.
Injecting Galchenyuk’s scoring ability into that lineup could mean a big boost.
No, he’s not the sort of tide-changing star who would lift Arizona into the scoring stratosphere, but Galchenyuk is a one-time 30-goal scorer, has another 20-goal season on his resume, and has reached 50+ points twice in his career. Not bad for a 24-year-old who will surely enter this season with a chip on his shoulder (and likely a refreshed feeling after exiting a toxic situation in Montreal).
Let’s go over why Galchenyuk’s addition could be big for the Coyotes:
Some help for Keller
Clayton Keller probably feels some empathy for Islanders wunderkind Mathew Barzal, as both have been asked to carry a huge burden of scoring for their teams entering sophomore seasons.
Players of any age can use someone who thinks the game at a higher level like them, and opens up space with smarts, skill, and finishing ability. Such a synthesis is plausible for Keller – Galchenyuk, whether that requires a few shifts or a few games to come to fruition.
With a big body like Lawson Crouse to – ideally – do some of the dirty work, and maybe shovel in some goals in front of the net, this could be a nice little scoring line.
Finishing touch on the power play, and in general
Circling back, the Coyotes created their fair share of chances, even during the early parts of their historically bad start. So far this season, the Coyotes suffer from easily the worst even-strength shooting percentage, connecting on just 2.96-percent of their shots on goal, according to Natural Stat Trick. No other team is under Anaheim’s 4.58-percent mark.
Oh yeah, they haven’t been much luckier on the power play, either, with their 10.5-percent success rate ranking second-worst in the NHL.
Again, Galchenyuk isn’t just going to sprinkle pixie dust all over these problems and make them go away by himself.
Still, his skill adds what could be some crucial finishing touch to a group that needs it at all levels. Galchenyuk has hit nine power-play goals twice in his career, and 30 of his 108 career tallies have come via the man advantage.
Left Wing Lock’s listings have Arizona’s top power-play unit as Galchenyuk, Keller, Derek Stepan, Dylan Strome, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Such a group won’t send the Capitals, Maple Leafs, and other high-end 5-on-4 groups tumbling down the stats leaders, but it could very well make special teams a coin-flip, rather than a disadvantage for the Coyotes.
Demoted to your level of competence
When you get a player back from injury, pieces can fall into more natural places. Even if Galchenyuk isn’t quite a top-line center (a genuine possibility), he might be able to help the Coyotes open up advantages at different levels.
For one thing, Derek Stepan probably makes more sense as a second-line or 1b center.
Stepan probably deserves more respect than he sometimes receives; five of his last six seasons were 50+ points, and he generated nearly a point-per-game the year he missed (ah, the streak-killing menace that was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season …).
With zero goals and one assist so far this season, Stepan was really fighting it. Maybe he was straining to play above his means? It’s plausible that he’ll return to that 20-ish goal, 50+ point pace with a little less weight on his shoulders.
Viewing Galchenyuk as a savior is wrong.
If the Coyotes climb in a big way, it will be as much about finally getting the bounces they haven’t been receiving all that often this season.
Still, consider Galchenyuk as an extra paddle on that pinball machine, possibly moving that random luck in the right direction. At worst, it should be fun to see him create offense alongside a brilliant young forward in Clayton Keller.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.