BROSSARD, Que. – With 64 players in training camp, a Montreal Canadiens prospect has to find a way to get noticed.
The ones who stand five-foot-eight—at least on paper—need to work that much harder.
Brendan Gallagher has been up to the task in the early going. The 19-year-old right wing scored the tying goal in Sunday’s intra-squad game before setting up the winner in front of a full house of enthusiastic fans at the Bell Sports Complex, the Canadiens’ suburban practice facility.
“He’s not a big player but has a big heart,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “He goes to the net, he’s not afraid and has good hands.
“He had an outstanding season last year with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League and he had a very good camp this summer with Team Canada’s world junior team.
“I think he’s shown over a year and a half that he’s been a part of our organization that he has a lot of character and a lot of determination and he reminds me a little bit of a Brian Gionta.”
“That’s a really high compliment,” Gallagher responded to the coach’s comparison. “Obviously that’s exciting to hear.”
Chosen 147th overall by Montreal in the 2010 NHL draft after posting 41 goals and 81 points in his sophomore season with Vancouver, the Edmonton native had 91 points in 66 games with the Giants last season, including 44 goals and 47 assists.
Gallagher, who played on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Andreas Engqvist, felt the Canadiens were a good fit from the moment his name was called at the Staples Center in Los Angeles late in the fifth round.
“You start watching the Montreal Canadiens play and you see the impact that the smaller players have on the organization,” Gallagher said. “You look at the captain, Brian Gionta, he makes a huge impact every game and he just competes so hard. When you watch Montreal play he’s the one guy you notice most of the time.”
In addition to Gionta, the Canadiens’ lineup already features two other skilled forwards who are listed below five foot 10—left wing Michael Cammalleri and centre David Desharnais.
“I saw him compete pretty hard out there. He made me feel like I’ve got to get my socks up here quicker in this training camp,” Cammalleri said before adding, half-jokingly, that Gallagher reminded him of a younger version of himself.
Determined to stay with the Canadiens as long as possible over the next few weeks, Gallagher acknowledged that “it’s a long shot right now.”
He is, after all, one of 35 forwards in camp with realistically only a couple of spots in play, at best.
Improbable, yes. Impossible?
“At the end of training camp people like David Desharnais, Yannick Weber, Max Pacioretty and Ryan White all had very good camps,” Martin said. “They were all sent back, they continued their progression and by the end of the season they were all part of our team and then now they all have NHL contracts.
“I think it’s important for young players to show their best, to show how competitive they are and play within their strengths. When you look around the league almost every year there’s one player within the 30 teams that comes out of junior or college who is not expected to make a team and makes his mark. So it’s up to them to show whether they’re ready to play at this level.”
If Gallagher is returned to the Giants, he is looking forward to having another crack at making Canada’s final roster for the world junior championships in Calgary and Edmonton.
“Last year getting cut was a big disappointment for me,” Gallagher said. “It was my first time getting cut in my life. It was definitely a new experience for me. It’s something I don’t want to feel again.
“I’ve worked hard in the summer. I’ve really tried to improve my skating so I feel like that’s going to help me and I know what to expect this time around. I’m very motivated to make that team and I’m looking to have another opportunity there to crack the team and help Canada win a gold medal.”