Number Cruncher – Young veterans

Tuesday, 17.12.2013 / 9:00 AM canadiens.com

Number cruncher – Young veterans

In a previous edition of Number cruncher, we compared the methodical development of Max Pacioretty with the meteoric rise of Alex Galchenyuk. This week, let’s take a look at the progression of P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher, two other CHL alumni who did not waste time making an impact at the NHL level.

Into the fray

P.K. Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, started his NHL career with a two-game cameo late in the 2009-10 season. Then, with a slew of injuries to the Canadiens’ back end that postseason, the 2007 second-round draft pick was recalled by the Habs for the team’s deep playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals.

Subban’s eight points in 14 postseason games proved he was ready to make the jump on a full-time basis and earned a spot among the team’s core, making 77 regular season appearances the following season and playing all but a handful of games since. At the same time, Subban has seen his average ice time increase from 20 minutes a game in his brief rookie season, to nearly 25 minutes per game in 2013-14, a workload on par with other elite defensemen across the league.

Looking at Subban’s offensive contributions in his first two NHL campaigns, his scoring rate of one point every other game (40 pts in 79 games) is bested by only two Habs defenseman since the Second World War: Chris Chelios and Tom Kurvers.

Chelios’ Hall of Fame career started in the unlikeliest of manners, as the 17 year-old converted himself from forward to defenseman and moved from San Diego, CA to Moose Jaw, SK to play Junior A hockey. The durable Olympian and three-time Norris Trophy winner only hung up his skates 30 years and three Stanley Cups later.

Kurvers, a Minneapolis, MN native, broke in with the Habs in 1984 after a brilliant career with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The well-traveled blue-liner had a career-best 66 points for New Jersey in 1988-89 before being moved to the Islanders in return for a first-round draft pick, which turned out to be Scott Niedermayer.

Down the right wing

In the past 20 years, exactly 92 rookies have broken into the league with the Montreal Canadiens. While none of them have managed to capture the Calder Memorial Trophy, two wingers have come close to becoming the first Hab to be named best first-year player since Ken Dryden received the honor back in 1972: Michael Ryder and Brendan Gallagher.

Nine years before Gallagher became a finalist for the Calder in 2013, Ryder broke out as a 23-year-old rookie with 25 goals and 63 points in 81 regular season games. An eighth-round draft pick, Ryder was passed over by most teams despite a brilliant Junior career for the Hull Oympiques of the QMJHL. The main knocks against the Newfoundland native were his skating abilities and lack of defensive responsibility. After playing in the ECHL and the AHL for three seasons, Ryder found his stride and stuck around with the big club for good. Armed with one of the best wrist shots in the league, the sniper backed up his strong rookie campaign with back-to-back 30-goal seasons for the Habs.

Also a relatively unheralded prospect, 2010 fifth-rounder Gallagher nonetheless became the all-time leading scorer of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants during his Junior career. Starting his pro career in Hamilton, Gallagher scored 20 points in 36 games before making the Canadiens roster immediately following the 2012 lockout. The Edmonton, AB native became the first rookie player in modern history to lead the Canadiens in goal scoring, tying Max Pacioretty with 15 markers in the shortened 2012-13 season.

Another comparable for Gallagher’s early career could be that of Stephane Richer, who carved out his niche in Montreal soon after turning 18. In the 1987-88 season, the 21-year-old Richer would become the first Montreal player to score 50 since Guy Lafleur and Pierre Larouche in 1979-80. Though he concedes four inches in height and 35 pounds in weight to the Ripon, QC native, Gallagher has scored at exactly the same pace (0.32 goals per game) as the former 50-goal man in his first full campaign with the Canadiens and shown the same propensity to challenge opposing goaltenders with relentless shooting (2.83 shots per game vs. 2.92 for Richer).

Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.

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