PITTSBURGH — Marc Bergevin got his man when he selected Russian-American Alexander Galchenyuk with the third-overall pick in the National Hockey League draft Friday night.
“We had our eyes on him all along,” Bergevin said after picking the six-foot, 198-pound centre.
Bergevin said he believes in building a team down the middle and that he was looking for a centre.
“I met him a few times and I was impressed,” Bergevin said. “He’s a very worldly guy.”
The Canadiens ignored the so-called Russian factor and weren’t concerned that Galchenyuk played only two regular-season games and six playoff games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting after suffering a knee injury in a pre-season game. Galchenyuk underwent surgery in London, Ont., but said his return for the playoffs and his performance in the NHL Combine are evidence that he is 100-per-cent healthy.
“There were times that I got annoyed talking about it,” said Galchenyuk, who was checked out by Canadiens team physician Dave Mulder. “I was so excited when they called my name that my heart was racing.”
The newest Canadien was born in Milwaukee but has lived in six countries as he followed his hockey-player father. He considers himself an American and he and his family moved back to Chicago when he was playing midget hockey so he could pursue his dream of playing in the NHL.
Galchenyuk is hoping that dream comes true this fall.
“I’m not in the prediction business, but I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible,” he said. “I have confidence in my ability and I think I can make it.”
Galchenyuk said he has been working on his defence in his two seasons in the OHL and his goal is to become a two-way forward. His coach in Sarnia is Jacques Beaulieu, father of Canadiens defence prospect Nathan Beaulieu.
It was a big day for Russian players from the Sting. The No. 1 overall pick was Nail Yakupov, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers.
“I told him I was very happy for him and I told him a couple of swear words,” Galchenyuk said. “He’s a good friend and he’s like family.”
Yakupov has been living with Galchenyuk’s family since the two started playing in Sarnia in 2010. Galchenyuk played a major role in helping Yakupov learn English and adjust to North American hockey.
If there were any doubts that the Canadiens were going to select Galchenyuk, they were erased when he attended the team’s combine in Brossard. His knee passed muster with the team’s medical staff and he impressed Bergevin and chief scout Trevor Timmins in their interviews.
And Galchenyuk said he was impressed with what he saw on the brief visit.
“I really liked the city, it’s like a European city, and the training facility (in Brossard) is fantastic,” he said. “I met P.K. Subban and I’m looking forward to meeting Andrei Markov and (Alexei) Emelin. I can speak English, but it will be good to have other Russians, and Markov has had the same injury as me.”
Galchenyuk said he was aware of the rich hockey tradition in Montreal and said he was prepared to deal with the pressure of playing in the city. He not only speaks English and Russian, but also speaks a passable Italian and embraces the opportunity to learn French.
“I think I’ll be starting French lessons in a few days,” he said.
In a predraft interview, Galchenyuk noted: ”I used to speak French, but I forgot about it.”
In his only full season in the OHL, Galchenyuk scored 31 goals and added 52 assists, finishing second in the rookie scoring race to Yakupov.
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