MONTREAL, QC. — If you listen to 2012 third overall selection Alex Galchenyuk in a formal interview setting, or watch his incredible skills on the ice, it is very easy to forget that beneath it all, he is still just an 18-year-old kid. It is his off-ice motivation and on-ice dominance that have some thinking the Canadiens should consider rushing him straight to the NHL as early as this Fall.
However, as a prospect, being NHL-ready requires more than just being better than some of the other forwards currently on the Canadiens’ roster. First, the team needs to ensure that he’ll be able to keep up the pace through a grueling 82-game schedule, as demoting him to a fourth line, or sitting him in the press box halfway through the year would derail his development; not to mention waste the first year of his bargain entry-level contract. Perhaps just as importantly, the club needs to be sure that Galchenyuk is mature enough at his young age to handle becoming a professional in a men’s league. Fame and fortune can change a person, they say.
The on-ice question won’t be answered till at least the Fall, but is he ready off-ice? We know from Twitter that he enjoys chirping teammates and eating at Subway, and has a tight relationship with his family (living with his father and sister in Sarnia.) He tends to punctuate his less-formal sentences with, “man.” He’s well-liked by his peers. But it’s hard to really understand someone’s personality traits via a simple online persona. Patrick Holland, one of Twitter’s bigger personalities amongst NHL prospects, comes off as far quieter and more reserved in a real life interview, for example.
After covering the Canadiens’ Development Camp last week, I had a brief chance to meet Galchenyuk, then he was later kind enough to answer a few questions for AllHabs.net. It doesn’t take long to see why he’s so quick to make friends, seemingly getting along well with Sebasian Collberg, Charles Hudon, and Brady Vail after just three days of camp in Brossard. Galchenyuk is friendly and has a good sense of humour, while maintaining a grounded sense of where/who he is, without feelings of entitlement.
On the ice, certainly his release is the first thing you notice, on display all camp long, including a nifty wrist shot goal in his side’s 3-2 win on the final afternoon’s scrimmage. Next, however, was something that both AllHabs.net Editor-in-Chief Rick Stephens and I noticed while watching Galchenyuk take drills: his skating. The centerman has powerful strides and generates good speed, but his technique looks somewhat unconventional. At six-foot one-half-inch, he certainly isn’t undersized, but he makes himself look a little bigger on the ice, which, after observation, is at least partly because he doesn’t bend his knees much when skating, in contrast with what scouts generally want to see. I don’t think this is something that will hold him back, but I did have a small concern that it might be related to his knee issue. Fortunately, he was quick to dismiss that.
“When I think I need to pick up speed, or take a shot, or something similar, I tend to bend more,” Galchenyuk responded. “If you look at a guy like Evgeni Malkin, he doesn’t bend much when skating either.” Habs fans would be encouraged by Galchenyuk modeling himself after a star like Malkin, but let’s keep in mind that he has had knee problems of his own in the past. Still, Galchenyuk doesn’t think of it as a concern. ”I’ve never had a trainer or coach tell me I’m skating too high. Maybe it’s because I have long legs that it looks that way,” he concluded with a laugh.
Something else that came up during Development Camp was a mention that Galchenyuk would consider spending part of his summer training in Montreal. It seems that report was a bit premature.
“I don’t know yet when I’m coming back, but it’ll be close to training camp,” he clarified. ”I’ll train in Sarnia with my Dad and in Toronto with [strength and conditioning coach] Matt Nichol.”
With this being Galchenyuk’s first trip to Montreal since the Canadiens selected him, I asked him about how it feels to come to a hockey market like Montreal, where he soon won’t be able to walk outside without being stopped for photos and autographs.
“Yeah, it happens sometimes in Sarnia. And I’ve already gotten stopped in Montreal,” he added with a chuckle. ”But it’s nice when people recognize you.” Let’s just hope that he continues to feel that way a few years into what all hope will be a long and successful career.
The Habs put their players through a pretty intense three-day Camp with a packed schedule, so was there anything particular that stood out for Galchenyuk, or anything he could pinpoint as having learned?
“I think just what it’s like to be here in Montreal, and to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization. It’s just awesome. I think I got better in the three days I was here for, and that was my goal coming in – to get better every day.”
Let’s hope that learning continues through the summer, into training camp, and through an entire hopefully healthier 2012-13 season. As of today, the smart money would be on Galchenyuk returning to Sarnia to dominate at the junior level for one last season, but the young man is determined to make a good impression and force the Canadiens to have a difficult decision as to whether or not to keep him in the NHL this year. To do so, he’ll need to make the sacrifices of many a young budding professional athlete, foregoing some of the freedoms and pleasures of your typical 18-year old by committing himself wholeheartedly to improving his game and being ready when his new team comes calling. If you want to pre-order your Galchenyuk jersey for when he does make his Hab debut?
“I don’t know what number I’ll wear yet, but probably 94. It’s my Sarnia number and also my birth year. But we’ll see.”