Plenty of props have been given to the young core of upstarts on the 2009-2010 Avalanche team. Fans and critics far and wide have sung the praises of the young guns and lauded their encouraging effect on the Avalanche. Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart have drawn the most attention because of their dazzling offensive play and thrilling speed (and the Road Runner, well, catch him if you can). Yip and Jones, although injured, also impressed with their offense prowess in their relatively short stints this season. Ryan O'Reilly plays a huge factor as a role player killing penalties and routinely throwing down some fantastic defense for a budding young forward. Ryan Wilson has made a name for him self with his ability to flatten players seemingly at will.
One player that I've felt has not been given due respect is T.J. Galiardi. Here's some love T.J.
At the 2007 entry draft, the Avalanche were holding a hefty 3 picks in the 2nd round. In the first round they took Kevin Shattenkirk with the 14th overall pick. In the second round they snagged Shattenkirk's BU teammate Colby Cohen (45th overall), and then goalie Trevor Cann (49th overall), before finally selecting (a very young) Galiardi with the 55th pick:
Galiardi, a Calgary native (don't hold it against him), was born April 22, 1988 making him 21 years old in this rookie campaign. His mother is an American and so T.J. holds dual citizenship with Canada and the U.S.. Galiardi played his junior hockey at home in Calgary for the Calgary Royals where in 05-06 he threw down 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points in 59 games, resulting in being named an AJHL All Star. T.J. was subsequently drafted by the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, but opted for Dartmouth collegiate hockey instead. He finished second in scoring that year on the Big Green, second only to fellow Avalanche David Jones, and was named to the ECAC all rookie team. After one season of collegiate hockey, Galiardi left school to return to Calgary and the WHL. Galiardi had a good rookie season in the WHL finishing second among all rookies with 70 points in 72 games (52 assists), before exploding for 24 points (5 goals, 19 assists) and leading ALL WHL players in playoff scoring. Think about that for a second: it would be similar to Duchene leading the NHL playoffs in scoring this post season - quite a feat.
Following Galiardi's spectacular WHL post season, he was drafted by the AVS and sent to Lake Erie for his first year in the pros. T.J. wasn't burning up the AHL by any means, but his 27 points in 66 games was a decent showing for a young player in his first season playing with the big boys. With all the injuries and chaos of the AVS' 08-09 season, Galiardi received his first call up with the AVS on March 19th and made his debut in a despicable 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, welcome to the NHL T.J.! He scored his first NHL goal a week later against Roberto Luongo. T.J. put up 4 points in his 11 games at the tail end of the AVS season last year and displayed enough promise to secure himself a hard long look at the following season's training camp.
He made the big club straight out of camp and wound up on the 3rd line serving mostly as a defensive forward and a containment type role player logging small minutes. He is still considered a rookie because he only played 11 games with the AVS in 08-09. Galiardi had a rough beginning to the 2009-2010 season - I remember one announcer early in the season who showed T.J. no love, and called him about 6 different versions of his name throughout the game: "T.J. Gagliardee". Nice one dummy.
T.J. also suffered an ankle injury just a few weeks into this season against his hometown team, the Calgary Flames. He missed 9 games due to the injury after scoring a quiet 6 points in his first 13 games. He has bested that pace and has scored 25 points in the 42 games since that injury, or a .59 point per game average. He currently ranks 5th on the Avalanche in scoring and has steadily moved up both the scoring and depth charts over the course of the season after bouncing around from left wing, to center and back again. He stared on the third line, eventually rose to the second line centered by fellow rookie Matt Duchene, before recently being promoted to the top line with Paul Stastny and another surprise youngster, RW Chris Stewart. This makes T.J. the AVS first line Left Wing. Nice promotion. He has also seen a rise in his power play ice time as well - and he's earned every second of it. He has also been one of the hottest players for Colorado since the Olympic break, notching 3 goals and 5 points in 4 games.
On a team with such a hyped player as third overall pick Matt Duchene, Galiardi hasn't received the attention that he probably would any other season, but at this point his name should start to enter into conversations about the Calder Trophy for the NHL's top rookie. He currently ranks 6th among all rookies in scoring, but sits only 4 points out of 2nd place despite playing 10 less games than most of the other players. He also leads ALL rookies, including defenseman, in short handed ice time played, averaging 3 minutes and 16 seconds per game (O'Reilly is 2nd with 2:58 p/game). He also is tied for the league lead in plus/minus for all rookies (with fellow AV Ryan Wilson). You can't say enough about what those last two stats translate into. He is a steady, rock solid player on both ends of the ice and in every situation. He is also not a reckless player as his 16 penalty minutes would support. He's done all of this with little notice, regard or hype from anyone besides perhaps his teammates and coaching staff. But in typical humble, team-first, fashion, T.J. doesn't mind if he's keeping a low profile:
"I’m happy to fly under the radar and help the team in any way I can," said Galiardi. "It doesn’t matter to me who gets the accolades as long as the team keeps winning. I just want to be able to grow with the team and organization."
Galiardi is a kid who doesn't feel he is owed a spot in the NHL. And he isn't taking his chance for granted either, he's making the most of it. He works hard every shift and plays responsibly every where on the ice. He listens to his coaches and follows their instruction and learns from every game, every practice. After scoring the game winning goal against Anaheim last week he stated,
"Coaches say go to the net and good things happen, so that's what I did".
Simple and understated. Like Galiardi himself.
The young players that are propelling the Avalanche to their current success have done it together, as a team, but also through their stalwart individual efforts and commitment to their assignments and each other. They are at times breathtaking to watch on the ice (Duchene all the time), and extremely likable as people off the ice. If the AVS front office wants to fill seats, PROMOTE THE YOUTH! The kids are alright. It may take time, but everyone around the NHL will know T.J. Galiardi by name soon enough.
P.S. - let's also not forget what he's done for the poor, shamed, and disgraced number 39.