TORONTO — Alex Galchenyuk may be down to his final chance.
It’s no secret that the doubters significantly outnumber the believers when you’re joining your seventh organization after recently going unclaimed on the NHL’s waiver wire while owning a contract that can be buried entirely in the minors.
Where exactly the Toronto Maple Leafs fall on that scale isn’t clear.
Galchenyuk was a risk-free acquisition for them and helped free up a valuable contract slot since the Leafs traded two low-depth players to the Carolina Hurricanes last Monday to take him. But they are an intriguing landing spot for the 27-year-old forward due to their heavy resources and a nine-member player development staff that should be able to help salvage anything still salvageable in the former third-overall draft pick.
At this stage, he’s a reclamation project for a first-place team that is under no pressure to play him. The Leafs are making a modest bet with the possibility of some upside and the onus is entirely on Galchenyuk to prove there’s a future brighter than his recent past.
“We can sit here and talk all day about my career … but that’s not where my head is,” he said Sunday. “My head is here and I’m really excited to be here.”
His head was spinning a week ago when he celebrated a birthday by getting traded to the Hurricanes from the Ottawa Senators. He was instructed to remain in Canada while Carolina general manager Don Waddell offered him around to the six other North Division teams, reasoning that his quarantine-exempt status would carry some added value during a season where any player typically added from a U.S.-based organization isn’t available to skate for 14 days because of federal regulations.
After being passed through the waiver wire, Galchenyuk was eventually dealt for the second time in a little more than 48 hours — acquired by the Leafs for Egor Korshkov and David Warsofsky.
“It was a pretty wild couple days,” said Galchenyuk.
He was given a couple days to pack up his life in Ottawa and joined the Leafs for his first skate at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday morning. Within minutes, Randi Milani — the team’s assistant skating development consultant — pulled out an iPad and was recording him taking strides up and down the ice.
Galchenyuk’s career was forged on his offensive abilities. He possesses a heavy shot and was a skilled playmaker in his prime, but he hasn’t been able to cultivate other areas of his game while seeing the minutes and production dry up over time.
He arrives in Toronto looking to “just be fully me.”
“You know, deserve that opportunity and then stick with it,” said Galchenyuk. “Keep working, keep attacking, keep playing aggressive and go out there and make plays. That’s my game. And compete.”
It’s not clear how soon he might find himself playing for a 14-3-2 Leafs team that is pretty crowded up front. However, when he eventually gets a chance to join Sheldon Keefe’s lineup, he’ll almost certainly find himself with linemates who possess offensive ability.
Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, Jimmy Vesey and Nic Petan are among those who have been pulling down fourth-line minutes of late.
All Keefe has told Galchenyuk so far is to get settled in his new surroundings and stay ready. The organization clearly has modest expectations.
“With his skillset and what he’s accomplished in the league, we see great potential there for him,” Keefe said last week. “But obviously, he’s a guy that’s trying to find his way and find his game.”
Galchenyuk is a long way removed from his 30-goal season with the Montreal Canadiens but he was a productive NHLer as recently as two years ago. He’s seen his rope get progressively shorter, though, with a 418-game stint in Montreal followed by 72 games in Arizona, 45 games in Pittsburgh, 14 games in Minnesota, eight games in Ottawa and no games in Carolina.
This could be the last NHL stop if he doesn’t carve out a niche with the Leafs.
At least Galchenyuk finds himself in a place with all of the available tools and resources needed to better himself. It’s been difficult to see a once-promising career crumble so quickly, but he’s still got a chance to live his dream.
“Even if there wasn’t hockey involved, I’ve been moving a few places throughout the last years. It was tough, but it’s part of life,” he said. “It’s exciting, depends how you look at it.”