As the deadline for the finalization of the rosters for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey has passed, fans of different NHL teams will wonder why certain players they know did not make the cut. As this is a tournament featuring the best in the world, there are many very good hockey players that will not be participating. Some notable examples are Corey Perry (Canada), Phil Kessel (USA), and Jiri Hudler (Czech Republic).
For the Montréal Canadiens and its fans, two of the best players in P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk did not make it to their respective clubs, and many will wonder and debate why this was the case. For Subban, it is more or less understandable, as his style of play has scared Team Canada in the past. During the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, head coach Mike Babcock repeatedly insisted on using players that were reliable on both ends of the ice. While Subban has improve in that regard, several times this season he was under scrutiny for being able to single-handedly lose a hockey game as much as being able to win one.
Considering that Brent Burns has essentially replaced Subban on the team as he continues to impress with San Jose’s run to the Stanley Cup, it makes sense that Subban has become the odd man out.
Galchenyuk and his Lost Years
The omission of Alex Galchenyuk from the North American U23 team is the more debatable decision among Habs fans, as he was one of the league’s best scorers during the last quarter of the regular season. His permanent move to centre was the turning point, as he played on the top line with Max Pacioretty, who will be playing for Team USA.
It is difficult to determine the exact reasoning for his exclusion, but there is much to look at for analysis. The one thing that stretches back to the beginning of Galchenyuk’s career is Montréal head coach Michel Therrien’s consistent decision to push him to the wing rather than allow him to develop at centre. As fans and media were able to see the remarkable difference between the version of Galchenyuk on the wing versus the version of him at centre, the questions started pouring in towards Therrien on why he did not allow the third overall pick on the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to play centre much sooner.
Therrien insisted that it was all part of the process and that Galchenyuk was able to perform as he did because of his insulation playing wing. He was apparently able to play against lighter opposition and handled less responsibility, according to Therrien. For some reason, playing at wing prepares someone to play centre better than letting them learn to play centre.
All kidding aside, Therrien has tried every combination available to him this season, except for Galchenyuk between Pacioretty and Gallagher
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) February 3, 2016
When looking at other players who made the North American team cut, there is one constant among centres within that list of players. Marc Scheifele, Sean Monahan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, and Nathan MacKinnon are all players who were allowed to play at their natural position of centre for most of their careers so far. These guys had the opportunity to get a feel for the position at the highest level, make their share of mistakes, and learn to develop their hockey sense to where it is today.
Galchenyuk never had the same opportunity in that regard as those guys did, so it is reasonable to assume that it set him back a year or two. Missing out on a whole year of major junior hockey due to injury also had a share to the cause, but Therrien’s refusal to properly develop a centre did not help, despite his insistence to the contrary. Although fans will question the thought process behind inclusions and exclusions, it is past the opportunity for change unless a player goes through an injury while training this summer.
In conclusion, it is a combination of missing development and a strong depth at centre that went towards Galchenyuk an odd man out of a World Cup roster. This is not an article about whether Team North America management should have picked Galchenyuk over someone else; it is the fact that he could have developed further along had he received a better opportunity.