Is he finally the one?
The stocky kid with the Russian-inflected English and look-at-what-just-happened grin?
The Montreal Canadiens sure hope so, and given where they finished last season, he’d better be.
Hockey people always talk about choosing the best player available at the draft table, and mostly that’s how it works. But after last season and the exigencies of a hockey-crazy market, the Habs needed to pick a player who can potentially transform the club.
The hope is they’ve also addressed a long-standing organizational need.
Consider the fact the Habs have essentially been hunting for a prototypical No. 1 centre – big, dynamic, lethal offensively – since the days of Vincent Damphousse, when synthesizer bands and crimping irons were all the rage.
Now, they think they’ve found one in Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting – an 18-year-old who ranked at the very top of 2012 NHL draft class in terms of talent, and may not have lasted until the third slot had it not been for a ruined knee in the OHL preseason last fall that put an abrupt stop to his year.
In that sense, this is not a pick devoid of risk.
Galchenyuk, who is known as a workout fiend, insists he is fully recovered from the injury, and immediately set the type of goal that any general manager would expect from a potential franchise player.
“I always set my goals high, and my goal is to play in the NHL next year,” he told a huge crush of reporters at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Calling it “unbelievable to be here with a Montreal Canadiens jersey on your back,” Galchenyuk said he had no firm clues he’d be the Habs’ choice, although given he spent two days in Montreal last week. “I knew there was a possibility.”
For all the speculation the Habs would be interested in drafting Swedish winger Filip Forsberg or Finnish sensation Teuvo Teravainen, new GM Marc Bergevin made no secret after his prize new recruit had donned his Canadiens jersey he was the guy they were targeting all along.
“We were focused on him from the beginning, he’s a big centre, and that’s rare,” Bergevin told the Habs’ French-language radio broadcaster 98.5 FM.
Galchenyuk brings high-end offensive skills and vision to the table, but the Habs brain trust was also impressed by his work ethic – he’s the sort of kid who makes a seven-hour round trip to do a leg workout – and competitiveness.
As head scout Trevor Timmins, who was sent to the lectern by Bergevin to announce the pick, put it to a reporter from RDS: “There was no internal debate.”
Whether Galchenyuk is able to suit up in Montreal this coming season – assuming there is an NHL season – is an open question.
The Canadiens are traditionally very conservative with bringing in prospects, and Galchenyuk’s lost OHL season may count against him.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, who was born in Milwaukee, where his father, Belarus-born Alexander Galchenyuk Sr., played for the Admirals of the old International Hockey League, will have his first chance to strut his stuff next week at the Habs’ development camp for rookies.
Oh, and for the record, Galchenyuk likely has more in common with soon-to-be teammates Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty of the U.S. than he does with two Belarussians – Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn – who are remembered for the wrong reasons in Montreal.
“I consider myself American,” Galchenyuk said before the draft.
And if the burly, swift-skating and even swifter-shooting youngster isn’t deemed ready to make the leap to the NHL, he’ll have time to hone his game and get used to the idea of playing in a hockey-mad market.
Growing up as the son of journeyman minor-leaguer, he learned to speak German, Russian, Italian and a little French – which he said he’s forgotten.
Odds are it will come back quickly given the reception he’s sure to receive from the Canadiens faithful.