Alex Galchenyuk is not just a young kid starting his career in the NHL. Gone are the days when he would have spurts of promise playing with Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust, or when the Russian-American would shy away from physical confrontations in the corners.
That was the old Galchenyuk. Now, the 20-year-old has completely refined his game and is becoming what scouts said he would be when Marc Bergevin drafted him third overall in the 2012 draft.
The season prior to his draft year, Galchenyuk suffered a torn ACL injury while playing with Nail Yakupov on the Sarnia Sting. This led some scouts to question his talent, as he only played two games after his 31 goal, 52 assist season the year before in the OHL.
Behind the mind of scouting director Trevor Timmons, the Canadiens took a huge chance on their highest pick in the draft since 1980. As it turns out, they’re certainly glad they picked Galchenyuk instead of the expected Mikhail Grigorenko or even Filip Forsberg.
In his rookie campaign, the new #27 of the Canadiens (after Alex Kovalev donned the number three years before him), gave fans a reason to cheer when he scored his first NHL goal on January 22, 2013 against Florida. This came in the second game of the season, since the league was locked out from October to January, which gave Galchenyuk some time in the OHL to develop his skills.
The lockout may have been the best thing that could have happened to Galchenyuk, as he also played for the US at the 2013 World Junior Championships, winning gold.
The Canadiens aren’t exactly an organization that rushes their players into the league, though some would say that they made that mistake with Carey Price. The young goaltender was placed in a starting role just two years after he was drafted, when former GM Bob Gainey traded away starter and mentor Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline of Price’s rookie season. Price struggled for two or three seasons, but he shaped into a man and is now one of the best goalies in the league.
They weren’t planning to rush Galchenyuk either, but it’s always a bit different with a forward as compared to a goalie. The lockout and all the extra games he got under his belt really paid dividends for Galchenyuk, who made the team and immediately was an exciting young player to watch.
In his third season, Galchenyuk is becoming that Evgeni Malkin-type he was compared to in the spring of 2012. At 6’1″ and just over 200 pounds, he has filled into his body and beefed up his size on the ice. Gone are also the days when he was just a lanky kid and struggled against bigger opponents. Having played both the Bruins and Flyers this season, Galchenyuk has showed his coaching staff and management just how much he has improved since last year.
Galchenyuk and Tomas Plekanec were the catalysts behind a three-goal third period comeback on October 11 in Philadelphia, with a goal and an assist. His goal came from battling Luke Schenn in front of Ray Emery‘s net, but Schenn couldn’t push the sniper who tipped in a shot by Plekanec. Against Boston five days later, he set-up linemate P.A. Parenteau‘s empty-netter.
His best moments of the season came with his two goals in the past two games. Saturday against Colorado, he stepped right out of the penalty box, skates barely on the ice when he created a turnover, used his speed to get open, and walked in on a partial breakaway to completely undress goalie Calvin Pickard and find the back of the net. His speed-of-light like hands sent a wave of energy through the 21,287 fans at the Bell Centre.
Then on Tuesday, he out-muscled Kyle Quincey with three minutes to go in the game, picked the puck up behind the net, and used his quick hands to beat solid Red Wings stopper Jimmy Howard on a wrap-around.
Coach Michel Therrien wasn’t generous in the amount of ice time he gave to Galchenyuk in his rookie and sophomores seasons. From 12:19 to 14:24, his ice time is now at a charitable 16:33, fourth on the Canadiens amongst forwards. The two goals on Saturday and Tuesday were a coming-of-age moment for Galchenyuk and the first nail removed from the coffin that confines his early development.
With his ice time at an appropriate amount, lightning-quick hands, and muscles that could push through almost anyone in the league, Alex Galchenyuk is ready to mature into a star. After a tough 2011-2012 season which saw the Habs finish last place in the East, the organization and it’s fans should be happy they failed then, because now, they have one good hockey player donning the CH.
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