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Top 25 Under 25: No. 23 Zach Gallant was once OHL’s most improved — what’s next?

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This newcomer earned a contract at Sharks development camp, but also showed off a riskier side to his play.

Zach Gallant, 83rd overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings, poses for a portrait during the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Zach Gallant’s rookie OHL season was nothing to write home about. The center joined the Peterborough Petes for 51 games and tallied just four assists, 23 penalty minutes and a -16 rating. For a fifth overall selection by the Petes in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, it was even more disappointing.

But for as bad as it began for Gallant, he turned it around quickly. His sophomore season, he improved to 21 goals and 26 assists, ranking sixth on the team in points and fourth in goals. That summer, he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round (83rd overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. At the time, Jameson Ewasiuk of DobberProspects saw Gallant’s ceiling as a potential “top nine” center for Detroit.

He returned to the Petes for two more seasons while in Detroit’s system, serving as an alternate captain in 2017-18 before being named captain in 2018-19. He suffered an injury early in the 2019 season, limiting him to just 30 games, but his offensive output remained steady, putting up 13 goals at 12 assists. This was the same year the Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley joined the Petes, which meant that Sharks scouts got a look at the Petes captain, too.

At the end of the 2019 Petes season, Gallant joined Detroit’s ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, for four regular season games, as well as their playoff run. Over 24 games, Gallant notched six goals and six assists, while the Walleye made it all the way to the Kelly Cup Final. Though they eventually lost to the Newfoundland Growlers, Gallant was able to get a good amount of professional experience in that run.

Despite that, he did not sign an entry-level contract with the Red Wings and that summer, Gallant became a free agent. He was invited to the Sharks’ prospect development camp — a subject we’ll come back to — and then signed to an ELC that July.

He returned to the Petes for his final overage season last year and he made it count. He finished the truncated season second on the team in goals (33), third in assists (32) and fourth in points (65). Excluding his abysmal rookie campaign, Gallant has totaled 168 points (83 goals, 85 assists) in 203 OHL games over the last four years.

He’s expected to join the San Jose Barracuda for the 2020-21 season.

What We Like

Gallant is known for being a defensive forward who is great at the face-off circle. He’s a physical player, which is probably why the Sharks were drawn to him in the first place. An under-rated comparison is perhaps Jordan Staal, another former Petes center, who topped out at 50 points during his 2012 campaign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And though it was just one postseason, getting professional experience in at age 20 is certainly to his credit — he wasn’t “sent down” to play in the ECHL, it was a legitimate step in his development and he took to it well. Hopefully that will lead to a quicker transition to the NHL.

Areas of Improvement

In his five years of OHL play, Gallant was consistently among the team’s top penalty-takers. Now, he plays a hard, physical game and isn’t afraid to lay the body — but he’s got to be able to do so safely and legally.

And here’s the part where we circle back to that development camp scrimmage, the one where as an invitee, Gallant got into a fight with Lean Bergmann. Hey, I get it, you’ve got to stand out and show what your game is, and ultimately, he did get a contract, but also: it’s just a scrimmage, is throwing punches necessary?

Sharks fans know what it’s like when top-scorers can’t stop taking stupid penalties. Gallant has a lot of work to do when it comes to picking his battles.

Highlight

We have to talk about this shorthanded goal from last November. Gallant gets a chance for a breakaway, and with three Erie Otters on his tail, he gets knocked down in the slot and continues to handle the puck and beat the Otters’ goaltender. Absolutely incredible follow through here. I could watch this a thousand times and never be sick of it.