With both Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin now under contract for the Montreal Canadiens, and Alexander Radulov gone to the Dallas Stars, there’s been some discussion about whether the Canadiens will try Galchenyuk at centre again. Some believe that the plan might be to try Jonathan Drouin at the centre position instead, so which one is actually better suited to the position?
Galchenyuk is undoubtedly the more experienced player at centre, playing just over a season of junior there and most of the last two NHL seasons down the middle.
Drouin, meanwhile, played a bit of centre as a 19-year-old in junior, but hasn’t played there in the NHL at all, even with tons of injuries at the position in Tampa Bay last season.
Galchenyuk has taken 1,391 faceoffs over 143 games the last two years, whereas Drouin has taken just 239 faceoffs over 94 games. Neither player has managed to win many of them, with Drouin winning just 43.9 per cent of his faceoffs and Galchenyuk winning 45.5 per cent of his.
However, faceoffs aren’t the only thing centres are responsible for, and it’s been made clear by the Canadiens that defensive responsibility is going to be the issue that matters most for winning a job in the middle. So which player is more defensively responsible?
Often analysis of defensive responsibility is limited to playing without the puck, essentially looking at which players are the better checkers, but puck management is at least as important because it puts more pressure on your teammates to cover mistakes if it’s poor.
Let’s look at play without the puck first.
Almost across the board Galchenyuk is more involved without the puck than Drouin is. the defensive zone, in particular, you can see he really stands out, recovering more loose pucks, blocking more opposition passes and taking the puck away from opponents more often with successful stick and body checks.
Drouin is no slouch without the puck, but his best work is done in the offensive zone where his forechecking ability is superior to Galchenyuk’s. Without the puck in the defensive zone though, it’s the 23-year-old American who gets more involved in the play to move things forward.
Galchenyuk’s defensive zone involvement also translates to his plays with the puck, as, overall, he makes 25.23 plays with the puck in the defensive zone per 20 minutes of even strength ice time to Drouin’s 21.27, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up over the course of a full season.
But this begs the question: How successful are they with the puck on their sticks?
Overall, Galchenyuk holds the edge in success rate in this category, with a huge margin over Drouin in the offensive zone and a small one in the defensive zone, while Drouin is very strong in the neutral zone. However, when you switch from a simple play success rate to turnover rates (inverted so that positive numbers are good), Galchenyuk remains strong in the offensive zone but begins to look very dangerous in the defensive zone.
One thing to pay attention to is that while Galchenyuk’s turnover rate in the defensive zone relative to his teammates is poor, his pass success rate there and in every zone is actually extremely strong. This means he likely isn’t making many huge misplays with the puck up the middle of the ice.
It’s not a coincidence that the two areas Galchenyuk struggles relative to his teammates in the defensive zone are turnovers and successfully dumping the puck out because 48.4 per cent of his total turnovers in the defensive zone are off failed dump outs.
Galchenyuk is, for whatever reason, very bad at dumping the puck up the boards and out of the zone to relieve pressure. There are two angles to look at this issue: One is that he can’t be relied on to clear the zone under pressure and needs to improve and the other is that forwards shouldn’t be dumping the puck out anyway.
Since he attempts to clear the zone with passes or skating nearly 80 per cent of the time is this really a skill that needs to be focused on since turnovers along the boards are not generally dangerous?