Alex Galchenyuk took some time to fully grasp the microscope he would be under as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Selected third overall at the 2012 NHL draft, the naive assumption of a teenager was that every team in the league got similar news media attention.
It was only after players started arriving from other organizations that Galchenyuk realized the magnitude of Montreal’s fishbowl.
And if there was any lingering doubt, the trade that sent him to hockey’s desert outpost sealed it.
“I never felt pressure from the media,” Galchenyuk, now a member of the Arizona Coyotes, said of the coverage in Montreal. “It was just normal. I thought it was like [how] it’s supposed to be.”
The soon-to-be-25-year-old then added of his new locale with a smile: “It’s definitely different.”
Galchenyuk, who has eight goals and 17 assists in 38 games in 2018-19, will return to Montreal for the first time since June’s deal that saw him swapped for Max Domi in a rare player-for-player move when the Coyotes visit the Bell Centre on Wednesday.
In six seasons with the Canadiens, the forward recorded 108 goals and 147 assists in 418 games. He added 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 28 playoff outings.
Hampered by a lower-body injury that cost him three weeks at the start of the current campaign, Galchenyuk had eight points in his first nine appearances with the Coyotes before a 16-game stretch between Nov. 13 and Dec. 22 where he registered just four assists.
Since Montreal’s 2-1 victory in Arizona on Dec. 20, though, he has five goals and nine assists in 14 outings.
“I always put pressure on myself to be productive,” Galchenyuk said over the weekend to a small group of reporters in Toronto that will no doubt grow much larger in Montreal. “That’s my job, to create offence. When I came to Arizona, it stayed the same.
“Going 16 games without a goal was tough on me, but you see around the league a lot of guys going through slumps.”
Domi, meanwhile, has been lights out with 16 goals and 28 assists in 50 games for the surprising Canadiens, who currently occupy the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
In the second season of a three-year, US$14.7-million contract he signed with Montreal in July, 2017, Galchenyuk said he’s happy his former team is doing well, but isn’t interested in putting stat sheets side by side.
“Everybody’s their own player,” he said. “Max is doing great and I’m happy for him, but we’re two completely different players. I can’t really compare myself to what he’s doing.”
A polarizing figure during his time in Montreal because of untapped offensive potential that never fully blossomed, Galchenyuk said he isn’t sure what kind of reception he’ll receive from fans of the Canadiens.
“I have a lot of great friends in Montreal,” he said. “I’m definitely happy they’re doing good.”
Coyotes head coach Rich Tocchet, who played three of his 18 NHL seasons with the Arizona franchise, said going from a hockey-mad city to the Phoenix area can be a challenge at first.
“He’d been in Montreal so long,” Tocchet said. “Coming to Arizona, it’s a different lifestyle, it’s a different hockey market.
“He’s gotten used to that.”
Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, whose team has been cut down by a number of injuries up front, said Galchenyuk has fit in well with the group
“He’s been good for us,” the all-star defenceman said. “He’s started to pick it up a bit lately.
“He’s scored some big goals and is making good plays.”
The Coyotes (22-22-4), who visit the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday before their short trip to Montreal, are 5-1-1 over their past seven games following Sunday’s 4-2 victory in Toronto over the Maple Leafs. Arizona has moved within four points of the second wild-card spot in the congested West — and Galchenyuk is part of the reason why.
“He’s done a nice job,” Tocchet said. “He’s come up with some key plays at the right moment.
“You need those big-game threat guys when the game’s on the line.”