MONTREAL — If there were any doubts that Alex Galchenyuk is a special player, they were erased Monday during a shootout at the conclusion of the Canadiens’ practice.
Galchenyuk skated in on Peter Budaj, threw a little deke at the veteran backup and deposited the puck in the net.
Okay, nice move. But hey, it’s the backup and everyone is entitled to a little beginner’s luck.
But then Galchenyuk took the puck, headed to the other end of the ice and put a different move by going to his backhand against Carey Price. Again, the puck found its way to the back of the net.
Minutes later, Galchenyuk is tormenting Budaj again, swinging wide on his forehand and finding the top corner.
The streak ends on the next shot as tries yet another approach against Price, firing the puck off the rush but shooting wide of the net.
The rookie’s teammates seemed to be impressed by the show although Galchenyuk explained that it was a team competition and “the guys on my team were happy because the losers had to skate four laps.”
At the end of the day. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said it would take more than the ability to score in a shootout to earn a job in the National Hockey League but as he discussed Galchenyuk it became clear that he didn’t regard the 19-year-old as a one-trick pony.
He talked about Galchenyuk’s speed and his strength but when it comes to assessing Galchenyuk’s chances of jumping from junior hockey to the NHL, the one word which stood out was maturity.
That maturity comes through when he meets the media horde which is part of the Montreal experience. The Canadiens public relations staff tries to spread the burden around in camp, making different players available each day but Galchenyuk has met the press three days in a row, patiently answering questions and displaying a confident air.
“I don’t know how I look from the outside but I think I’m doing a pretty good job,” said Galchenyuk. “Physically, I’m pretty good and speedwise, I think I’m getting used to the pace.”
When he was drafted third overall last June, Galchenyuk said his goal was to play in the NHL this season. General manager Marc Bergevin said the youngster would be given the opportunity to make the team but it seemed a longshot because Galchenyuk missed most of the 2011-12 season following major knee surgery. There was concern, not about the knee but about the missing year in his development.
The lockout has helped Galchenyuk fill the gaps in his resumé while providing assurance that his knee is sound. He attended a Canadiens development camp and the U.S. junior training camp in the summer and was tearing up the Ontario Hockey League before heading to Russia where he helped the U.S. win the world junior championship.
The more recent concerns have centred on his contract. Can the Canadiens fit his $3.3-million cap hit AND satisfy P.K. Subban? And does the team want to burn one year of his entry-level contract on a shortened season?
Neither of these appears to be a concern for Therrien. While the coach shies away from numbering his lines, he has Galchenyuk practicing at left wing on a top line with Brian Gionta on the right side and Lars Eller filling in for the banged-up Tomas Plekanec at centre.
Galchenyuk has been a centre for most of his life but Therrien feels that playing the wing will ease the youngster’s transition to the NHL.
“There’s less responsibility on the wing,” said Therrien, who noted that Galchenyuk is no stranger to the position. He went on a scoring rampage in Sarnia after the Sting moved him to left wing and the Canadiens’ director of player personnel Martin Lapointe encouraged him to shoot more.
Galchenyuk said he didn’t know whether he would be in the lineup for the season opener against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night but if he is “it will be very exciting.”
It will be very disappointing if he isn’t.
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