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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- When describing Montreal Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher, Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette hits it perfectly:
"Looks like an angel, plays like the devil."
The angel: Gallagher turns 21 in May, but looking at him you would think he just got his driver's license.
The devil: In some corners, Gallagher is earning himself the "little ball of hate" nickname, one currently bestowed upon Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins for his ability to get under the skin of opponents.
(Has anyone consulted Pat Verbeek about this?)
"I don't care. People can call me whatever they want," said Gallagher about the nickname after Tuesday's morning skate ahead of their game against the New York Islanders. "I'm not too worried."
He's listed at 5-foot-8, but plays a bigger man's game. Gallagher's stature has never forced him to be shy about going into the corner's and playing a style game that invites physicality.
"It's just something I have to do to be successful," Gallagher said. "My dad [Vancouver Giants strength and conditioning coach, Ian] has influenced me in that way. He's a pretty competitive guy himself so growing up he made sure I was always playing the right way and playing hard. Regardless of how big I am, I can go into the corner and take a hit. It's just something that's been with me and needs to stay with me."
Gallagher's early season success while paired with fellow rookie and roommate Alex Galchenyuk earned him a spot on the top line after Erik Cole was dealt to the Dallas Stars last week. The no-fear attitude and work ethic was quickly noticed by the Montreal coaching staff.
"The biggest reason why he's had success is he works so hard, he goes to those places, those dirty places that he knows he's going to get whacked, but he's getting rewarded," said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. "He's a kid that's always on the puck and he brings a lot of intensity to our team and we just love the way that he plays."
Through 18 games, Gallagher has 6 goals and 13 points, good enough for third among rookies.
There's early Calder Trophy talk, but there a lot of hockey left to play, and with rookies, the possibility of hitting a wall always exists as they adjust to the NHL level.
The nerves haven't quite left his body yet, but more experience will bring the game back to a natural and instinctive level for Gallagher. In the meantime, the young forward will continue to heed the teachings of the Canadiens coaching staff, as well as his older, experienced teammates, and capitalize on this chance up in the show.
"I appreciate every opportunity I get," said Gallagher. "But you know it could be your last, so each time he's throw you on the ice you play like it's your last shift and you're trying to earn another one."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy