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Morgan: Alex Galchenyuk trade offers immense upside for Coyotes

Montreal Canadiens' Alex Galchenyuk is seen during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Coyotes general manager John Chayka made it plain after the season that he would not undervalue Max Domi as an asset despite a down season in which he scored just nine goals (four empty-netters) and finished second on the team in turnovers with 62.

Judging by the majority of media and fan reactions to Friday’s one-for-one trade of Domi to Montreal for forward Alex Galchenyuk, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin may have been the one who undervalued his asset.

Distill this trade to its core and you get this:

At worst, the Coyotes acquired a more productive scoring wing than Domi has been. Domi has averaged 0.16 goals per game; Galchenyuk has averaged 0.26 (their points per game are even) and Galchenyuk’s 255 points are tied with the Nashville Predators’ Filip Forsberg for the most of any player from the 2012 draft class.

At best, the Coyotes have acquired a top-six center who touches the game in far more ways than a wing does.

“You’re more involved in the game and I feel you touch the puck, you have the puck on your stick way more than a winger,” Galchenyuk said Saturday on a conference call. “I feel really comfortable when I have the puck on my stick. I really believe in my offensive abilities when I have the puck. I feel like when you’re playing center you have more ice.”

There are certainly question marks surrounding Galchenyuk. Both Bergevin and Canadiens coach Claude Julien felt he was ill-equipped to play the center position so they moved him to wing. At the heart of that move was the analysis that Galchenyuk did not show enough attention to detail or structure in his own end.

Galchenyuk is just 24, however. When the Coyotes analyzed his game, they saw more potential.

“I see a young player trying to play center,” Chayka said Saturday. “It’s a very hard position and it takes lot of reps at the NHL level. You can’t replicate it anywhere else. You have to do it at the NHL level. We have seen everything others have seen in the past, and we understand the frustration of bringing a young center up. We’ve experienced our own with Christian [Dvorak) and Dylan [Strome] but when I spoke to [Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet] he wanted a challenge and he wasn’t afraid of this.”

The Coyotes have been searching for a No. 1 center since Jeremy Roenick departed 17 years ago. The problem that Chayka has discovered is that you either draft that guy or, in most cases, you go without. Joe Thornton, Tyler Seguin, Mark Messier and even Wayne Gretzky were traded, but those are still rare exceptions to the rule.

Short of that trade possibility, some teams — most notably Nashville — have taken an alternate approach by building strong depth up the middle that can provide production throughout the lineup.

The Coyotes hope they have done that by acquiring Galchenyuk to add to the current center options of Derek Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Marcus Kruger and Nick Cousins. Clearly, all six of those players cannot play center at the same time, but they could in situations that play to their strengths. It’s what Chayka likes to call “optionality.”

“It’s one of my favorite buzzwords because there is value in it,” he said. “A lot of people view this center-wing thing as a negative. I view it as a positive if we have versatility. If you have flexibility and malleability to your roster, it allows the coach a lot of options. You see it in the NFL and NBA; the ability to guard and play multiple positions is valuable. We want to play fast so having guys who can play multiple positions makes them more interchangeable.”

Tocchet cautioned against extreme versions of that approach.

“You’ve got to be careful not to bounce people around and prevent them from getting comfortable,” he said. “Some players like it and some don’t, but there are situations where having two centers on a line can be helpful, face-offs, righties, lefties, and maybe the NHL is going more toward a system like that.”

The Coyotes were weighing other options at the center position, which was their top priority this offseason. There were other players rumored to be available, Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly among them, but Galchenyuk $4.9 million cap hit over the next two seasons, and the asking price of just one player vs. multiple assets led Chayka to the belief that this was the best deal available.

“Term is something that is important to us because we have a number of young players whose contracts will require attention soon,” Chayka said. “Everyone wants to get something and give up nothing but when you are acquiring a player like this it’s going to be expensive.

Chayka admitted that trading Domi hit home for him because he had developed a close relationship with the team’s 2013 first-round (No. 12) pick.

“It was tough on a personal level because I like him a lot and Max did a good job here,” Chayka said. “Obviously, you’re giving up a very talented player a very good person, someone that’s been very active in the community, done a lot of good things. These are very tough decisions, not ones that we make lightly but at the same time my job is to improve our team. We feel like we’re a better team today.

“We feel very strongly about the player we’re getting back and that’s really where my focus is.”

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