With the Leafs currently displaying the exact opposite of their usual stretch-run brilliance, Many fans are looking toward the future, and more immediately, the 2012 NHL Draft, to be held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Despite the fact that the curtains are not technically down on the current season, The dramatic fall by the Maple Leafs since the start of the new year has brought the fan base from dreams of a playoff spot, to dreams of filling a gaping hole in the top-6, with a legitimate talent for the future. Over the course of the months leading up to the draft, I’ll use at least one of my posts each week to highlight potential draft targets of the Blue and White, and shed a little light on the next group of possible Maple Leafs.
It’s fitting, I believe, to start my profile series off with a player that will (potentially) fill the team’s most glaring need. The ever-elusive, often talked about, number one center. It’s often stated that you can rarely trade a commodity as highly sought after as a #1 center, and that holds true, for the most part. It’s extremely rare that a player like Joe Thornton or Jeff Carter becomes available. We’ve seen it happen, as illustrated in the previous examples, but once again, deals involving these prizes rarely become available.
We start at the top, with a player that could easily be in the discussion for the top two picks in the draft, if not for suffering a serious MCL injury at the beginning of the 2011/2012 OHL regular season. Sarnia Sting star center, Alexander Galchenyuk, was picked 1st overall in the 2010 OHL Priority Draft. Galchenyuk, as his name would suggest, is of Russian descent, although he was born in Milwaukee, while his father played pro hockey for the Admirals of the IHL. Before Alex would turn 16, he lived in Italy, Germany, and the United States.
Before being selected by the Sting, Galchenyuk made his name in the Midwest Elite Hockey League, for the Chicago Young Americans. In his single season in the league (as a 15 year old), Galchenyuk recorded 44 goals and 43 assists, for 87 points in just 38 games. Entering his rookie year in the OHL, Galchenyuk generated a ton of buzz, being selected as a key piece to begin a resurgence for the Sting, after a 17-win 2009/10 campaign. Alex wasted little time making an impact, registering 31 goals and 52 assists, for an 83 point rookie campaign, alongside fellow rookie sensation, Nail Yakupov. Galchenyuk was selected to the 1st team All-Rookie squad for the OHL, and finished second in rookie scoring behind only Yakupov.
Prior to the start of the 2011/12 regular season, Galchenyuk suffered a potentially season ending injury, when his skate stuck in a rut, in a pre-season game against the Windsor Spitfires in early October. The injury; a tear to his medial collateral ligament, will inherently raise questions in the eyes of management teams across the NHL, but much like Tampa’s 6th overall pick in 2010, Brett Connolly, it’s expected that his talent and skill will keep him in the top-10 of the draft. Here is video, courtesy of Cogeco TV Ontario, of the injury itself:
Despite missing the entire 2011/12 season to date, Galchenyuk is expected to return for the playoffs, and will be expected to once again find his game. I look for Alex to be chosen between picks 4-9. Even though a knee injury of the caliber Alex suffered can be a major set-back, there are few players available in this draft that are able to match the pure skills and talent possessed by the young Russian.
Here are a few videos of who I believe should be the Leafs’ #1 priority come draft day, whether or not in takes some wheeling and dealing to get him in the fold.