As Russian as his name sounds, Alex Galchenyuk won’t be throwing a red and white sweater over his head in international competition anytime soon.
Galchenyuk isn’t even from the land of current NHLers such as Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin. In fact, he’s from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski.
Instead, he’ll be wearing the red and white of one of the most storied franchises in all of sport, the Montreal Canadiens.
Galchenyuk will soon be one of the most recognized athletes from the Badger State. His performance at the 2013 World Junior Championship has him off to a great start.
The young star was selected third-overall by the Habs in the most recent NHL Entry Draft. This came after missing almost his entire draft-year due to a knee injury.
Scouts were sold on Galchenyuk’s talents following his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League. Lacing up the skates for the Sarnia Sting, he excelled playing alongside Nail Yakupov. The two were a dynamic duo on offense for the Sting thanks to Galchenyuk’s ability to make plays and Yakupov’s natural talent of goal-scoring.
Coming into this season, Galchenyuk’s ability to produce without Yakupov was questioned. The latter was chosen by the Edmonton Oilers first-overall in June, and is a Calder Trophy favourite on a team filled with young phenoms.
Based on Galchenyuk’s play in the first-half of this season, Habs fans have no reason to worry. Galchenyuk has been outstanding, and everything points to him having a solid pro career.
“He’s a big, talented centerman with great vision and his character is off the charts,” said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin shortly after selecting Galchenyuk. “I saw it in his eyes.”
Sarnia was expected to sit near the basement of the OHL’s Western Conference this season, but at the moment, Galchenyuk is doing his best to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“He’s a really hard worker and in Sarnia he’s a guy … you [could] see him late in the gym when he wasn’t playing,” said Connor Murphy, a Sting blueliner and first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes.
While he isn’t surrounded by as much talent as he’s had in the past, Galchenyuk has still been putting up MVP-like numbers.
The OHL’s Most Outstanding Player award is usually handed to a player who leads one of the best teams in the league, but this year may be different than past ones.
Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs is widely considered the current-favourite, but Galchenyuk’s going to give Strome a real run for his money.
Ready For The Show?
In the 2013 world juniors, Galchenyuk appeared ready for dominance during Team USA’s pre-tournament games. When the real deal started, it seemed Galchenyuk was receiving limited ice time. Turns out, it was all for the greater good.
As he returned to Sarnia to finish of the season, Galchenyuk was looking as though he might already be prepared to step into the National Hockey League.
But is that really the right decision?
Fans of Long Island have seen firsthand the effects of rushing young stars to the pros. Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter were both New York Islanders prospects who were called upon to help at a young age. Now, many are already worried their bulbs have burned out.
If he does in fact make Montreal`s opening-night lineup, there will be fans at the Bell Centre chanting for Galchenyuk to bring Montreal back to its days of glory. But ease up there, fans, it’s not always to right thing to find instant help; waiting a few months longer for next October may be the smarter idea.
Ask anyone who has seen him play on a regular basis, and they’ll tell you he’s bound for stardom. There have even been those who’ve suggested Galchenyuk will be a better NHLer than Yakupov. More than a few people feel Galchenyuk should have gone first-overall.
It’s not as though these statements aren’t justified. If Galchenyuk will succeed in the NHL, it will certainly be as a top-six player. One won’t get much argument there.
Galchenyuk has played both centre and wing in the OHL, and has played often on the left side for the Sting this season. In Montreal, he could likely play either position.
When it all comes down to it, analysts say Galchenyuk should be able to become a regular All-Star.
Bergevin believes Galchenyuk has star-material written all over him. Galchenyuk’s passion for the game is what Montreal’s general manager believes will help him succeed.
“Hockey is the most important thing in his life and nothing is going to stop him from being the best hockey player he can be.”
David O’Connor is a managing editor with the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. His writing has been on the Los Angeles Times’ website, among other places. O’Connor also does some scouting work for the local Junior B hockey club. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.