MONTREAL, QC. — Ultimately, the Edmonton Oilers would go down as the team that Failed for Nail this past season, but it appears that fans of the Montreal Canadiens are unbothered by this, satisfied that their team had its own secret motto, “Suck for Galchenyuk”. After the Montreal Canadiens drafted six-foot tall, 200 lb center, Alex Galchenyuk this past Friday in Pittsburgh, the question in Montreal quickly shifted from “Who will the Canadiens draft?” to “Will Galchenyuk play with the Habs next season?”. At least, that was the case for many of us this past Friday at the AllHabs Draft Party at McLean’s Pub.
Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, of the United States of America, and spent his childhood growing up in various countries like Germany, Italy, Belarus and Russia before returning to the U.S.A. at the age of 15.
Still at the age of 15, he played one season with the Chicago Young Americans U18 team and put up 44 goals and 43 assists, for a total of 87 points in only 38 games played. With an average of 2.29 points per game, it was enough to secure his spot as the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) first overall pick, going to the Sarnia Sting.
At the age of 16, his first season with the Sting was no disappointment, netting 31 goals and picking up 52 assists, for a total of 83 points in 68 games, good enough to finish 20th in the league in scoring. Teammate Nail Yakupov and this year’s first overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers, had picked up 49 goals and 52 assists, for 101 points (4th overall) that same season.
We all know what happened next, Galchenyuk blew out his knee in this past year’s preseason, and would go on to miss the entire season minus two games recovering. Add to this six playoff games where he picked up two goals and two assists, and you have a player who has only played eight games in the past year, and this is what appears to have a lot of people worried. Worried, not so much about his knee and how it recovered, but worried that due to his lack of playing in the past year, it might be too much to ask of him to handle the load of a NHL schedule and the beating that surely comes along with it. It goes without saying that they feel that another full season with the Sarnia Sting might be to his advantage. Perhaps.
What’s reassuring in his case is how he performed at the NHL combines. One league executive was quoted as saying “He’s a real gym rat” when asked about Galchenyuk. Matt Nichol, a Toronto-based trainer who works with Gary Roberts at elite prospects said, “A lot of people were pretty impressed when they saw him up close in person, he’s just a big, strong guy, and he trains extremely hard.”
Galchenyuk is described as a great puck handler who is smart with the puck and creative in the offensive zone, with the ability to setup plays and provide scoring, which to me sounds like a bigger, stronger Plekanec who is, or could become more of an offensive scoring threat than his counterpart.
For me, it’s quite simple. If Galchenyuk presents himself to the Habs’ training camp in terrific shape, and is able to demonstrate that he is unaffected by last season’s injury, and proves to the Canadiens’ brass that the Montreal Canadiens are a better team with him in the lineup than without, he should start the season in Montreal. It would not be a mistake to keep Galchenyuk in Montreal at his young age, but what would be a mistake is to keep him in Montreal without giving him the ice-time to develop.
There is no manual on how many minutes a rookie should play in order to ensure a proper development, but let’s look at this past season’s five rookies who played at least 55 games over the course of the season:
GP: Games Played
ATOI: Average Time on Ice
Not many if any conclusions can be drawn from such a small sample size, however the results still indicate that:
- Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog and Larsson, who had the better seasons had the most ice-time.
- Couturier who had a season of growing and learning had between three and six minutes less in average ice-time than the above three.
- Niederreiter who had a terrible season with the Islanders had the least ice-time of them all.
Of course, other factors contribute to the ice-time, like the obvious fact that players who play well will normally receive more ice-time, while those who don’t receive less, a no-brainer. My point remains that if a team chooses to keep a rookie on their team, they need to have confidence enough in the player to give him the necessary ice-time to develop and transition, and be prepared to not only live with the good and excitement that comes with a player like Galchenyuk, but also the growing pains that come with a young player. (For examples, type “P.K. Subban” into Google search engine)
If you look back at the five players above, or four if you want to exclude El Nino, is it that far-fetched to think that Galchenyuk could make his way into the Canadiens’ lineup this upcoming season?
One thing is for sure, this kid “gets it”. I’m not sure how much of it comes from his father, and how much of it comes from him alone, but already at his young age, the kid gets what it takes to play in Montreal, and we are seeing it everyday on Twitter.
If you’re on Twitter and not already following Galchenyuk, you can find him at @AGally94, and yesterday, as he came off the plane arriving in Montreal, he tweeted the following:
“Landed in Montreal !! #commasava #savabein #HABS”
It was an attempt to say Comment ça va, ça va bien, or “How are you, i’m fine” if you prefer. The spelling wasn’t perfect, but it was a small gesture that went beyond unnoticed. In interviews, Galchenyuk emphasized that he understands how much fans in Montreal appreciate when players make an effort to speak the French language, and that he has every intention of learning French, which he had learnt in the past but lost some time ago.
Today, following a day of training at the Brossard facility, he again tweeted in French:
“Fini les evaluation au Canadiens maintenant relaxe avec @KidHud_10 #HABS”
Much improved after only one day! He later admitted that Charles Hudon (Habs’ fifth-round pick) who he was with at the time, sent the tweet for him, but even if he’s getting help from his mates, he’s very quickly winning the hearts of Montreal Canadiens’ fans.
It’s only a question of time as to when Galchenyuk will be in Montreal, whether this season or the next, but his short-term future should not be decided in advance, he should be given the chance to show his worth, and there is still plenty of time before these decisions have to be made.