It’s probably a matter of time before Alex Galchenyuk becomes a full-time NHL centre.
And it looks like he may get a shot at his natural position when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Coach Michel Therrien did some line juggling in practice Friday after a 3-2 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had Galchenyuk in the middle between captain Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque but cautioned he hadn’t made a final decision on his forward units.
Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, has played at centre only occasionally in his first two NHL seasons.
“I like the position so I’m excited for the game and I’m excited to play,” the 20-year-old said. “We’ll see what happens.
“I want to establish myself as a centre in this league. I’m still young and I still have a long way to go, but I want to make a step in the right direction.”
Galchenyuk has 12 goals and 16 assists in 56 games, including two goals and three assists since returning Feb. 26 from a 15-game layoff with a broken hand.
Getting ice time at centre has been tough.
David Desharnais is producing regularly on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek. Veteran Tomas Plekanec, one of the league’s best two-way players, is at centre on the second line.
Therrien’s new units had the struggling Lars Eller dropped to centre on the fourth line with Travis Moen and Dale Weise.
Gionta feels Galchenyuk has the skill to handle playing centre on a regular line “He’s a good enough and smart enough player, it’s just a matter of being able to handle it night in and night out,” said Gionta. “It would be nice to see how he is out there.”
Bourque, who has endured a miserable season with only five goals in 53 games, hasn’t played in five games. He said it was the first time in his nine-year NHL career he was made a healthy scratch.
He spoke with Therrien this week about what he needs to do to get back in the lineup and now looks like he will get a chance to redeem himself. Therrien said he wants to see Bourque “show some improvement.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Bourque, a two-time 27-goal man. “It’s been a tough go.
“I just have to score – just get myself in position to shoot more. A lot of times I’m too much down in the corner, so maybe let other guys go in the corner more and try to get open.”
Bourque also likes the idea of playing with Galchenyuk, a slick skater and passer who is considered the club’s star of the future. His linemates tend to get scoring chances.
“I was waiting for him to play centre,” said Bourque. “That’s his natural position.
“Davy’s obviously good at distributing the puck up and the middle and I think (Galchenyuk) could be that guy too. We need another play-making centre on our team and he definitely has enough skill in his hands to make a lot of good passes.”
It appeared that rookie defenceman Jarred Tinordi may sit after giving up the puck on Ryan Johansen’s game-winning goal for Columbus. Douglas Murray had moved in beside Mike Weaver on the third pairing.
Therrien also said forward Brandon Prust has been shut down for the rest of the regular season in hope that his upper-body injury will heal in time for the playoffs.
Prust was hurt when hit into the boards in the first period of a 6-3 win over Colorado this week. He returned in the second and had a goal and an assist but sat out against Columbus.
“It’s better to make sure that when he comes back, he’s ready,” said Therrien. “So we’re taking a step back to make sure he’s 100 per cent.”
The Canadiens are entering a tough stretch with three games in four nights. After Toronto, they play in Boston on Monday before returning home to face Buffalo the following night.