If you asked for my short list of the players I’m most excited to watch heading into the 2019-20 season, Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher would certainly be on it.
It wasn’t long ago that there were concerns around the league about Gallagher’s diminutive frame limiting his offensive productivity. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180-pounds, the fear was that Gallagher would be easily pushed out of premier scoring areas by bigger defenders, and that his ceiling would be that of a specialist somewhere in the bottom six of most forward groups.
Those concerns never materialized, mostly to the credit of Gallagher himself. He has tuned his hockey abilities to complement an offensive zone work ethic that is second to none in the NHL. I frequently refer to him as a pit bull on skates, because it seems the only time his motor kicks off is between shifts. He’s also a much stronger player than his size would indicate – bluelines around the league have tremendous difficulty keeping him out of the slot, which is one of the big reasons why he’s surpassed the 30-goal mark in consecutive seasons.
Montreal surprised the league last season with how scrappy and relentless they were at 5-on-5. Their return to a speed-based game with an unrelenting forecheck made them an uncomfortable opponent for most teams in the league, and it’s why they surprisingly finished just two points back of the final wild-card spot in what was originally considered a transition year.