The Montreal Canadiens announced on Friday that winger/centre Brandon Prust would be lost for the rest of the regular season due to an upper body injury. TVA sports insider Renaud Lavoie had reported earlier in the week that it was a rib issue.
“Our medical team decided that it would be best if Brandon Prust did not play the rest of our regular season schedule,” announced Michel Therrien after today’s morning practice. “The time off will give him a chance to heal and come back one hundred percent in the playoffs.”
The 30-year-old did not play in the Habs 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. He had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s win over the Colorado Avalanche, forming an effective fourth line with Travis Moen and Dale Weise. All three had goals in the Canadiens’ 6-3 win.
Prust was centring the line, but has also played on the wing this season, and throughout his NHL career. The versatile forward is a great penalty killer and an excellent energy line grinder. He gets in hard on the forecheck and loves to throw hits. He’s also someone who defends his teammates and doesn’t back down from bigger and tougher opponents.
With Prust out last night, Ryan White took over duties centring the fourth line. However, at practice today Therrien revealed a new look, moving 20-year-old sophomore Alex Galchenyuk back to the middle on a third line with Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta. Lars Eller was centring the fourth line with White as a spare forward.
Galchenyuk, a natural centre, has mostly played left wing in the NHL. The third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, he’s been brought along slowly by the Canadiens who have preferred him in a spot without the defensive responsibilities of centre. However, the team has always said that the long-term plan has been to move the talented forward to centre down the road. This injury opens an opportunity for Galchenyuk to try to prove he is ready to be that skilled centreman the Habs have lacked for so long.
“Galchenyuk is a good enough and smart enough player to be able to make that transition,” assured Gionta. “It’s just a matter of being able to handle the responsibility night-in, night-out.”
“I know that center is his natural position. On our team,David Desharnais is very good at distributing the puck, and I think Galchenyuk can be the same kind of player. He definitely has the hands and the vision to make it happen,” added Rene Bourque.
There has been little doubt about the skills the American forward possesses at the offensive end of the ice. He has great instincts, sublime passing, a laser of a wrist shot, and outstanding hands. The questions have been his ability to win faceoffs and to play in his own end of the ice. With a defensively responsible stalwart like Gionta at his side, Galchenyuk is being given the opportunity to play in the middle, and some defensive support should he make the type of mistakes all young players make.
While Gionta is the perfect partner to continue to allow Galchenyuk to take things slowly and help cover up for his defensive mistakes, on the left side is Rene Bourque. He has been a healthy scratch for the last five games and is having a season that can best be described as miserable. Now an optimist may believe that Bourque will come back into the lineup with the type of fire and strong play needed to secure his own spot down the stretch, color this analyst as unconvinced. I doubt it will happen, but I personally would like to see Michael Bournival used at left wing on this line next week when his conditioning assignment in Hamilton ends.
With Lars Eller’s struggles being well publicized, this could be Galchenyuk’s time to make the case for a permanent role in the middle of the ice. While its the best opportunity he’s had to date in his NHL career, he is still so young that it won’t be his last. That said, it would really boost the Canadiens chances going into the playoffs if he proves to be capable of locking down the role.
“I want to establish myself as a great centreman in this league,” Galchenyuk said. “I’m still really young, but I’ve still got a long way to go. I want to make a step in the right direction. And I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”
His first chance comes tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre, against the forever rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit just three points behind the Canadiens for third place in the Atlantic Division.
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