Galchenyuk gets needed game action at camp
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Regardless of what the numbers showed, U.S. center Alex Galchenyuk got just what he needed this week at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp: actual game play.
Galchenyuk was taken by the Montreal Canadiens with the third pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, even though he played just two regular-season games right before the Ontario Hockey League playoffs because of a major knee injury sustained in a September preseason game. He had two goals and two assists in six playoff games, which was a taste of what NHL scouts had seen the season before.
Two seasons ago, as a rookie with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, he had 31 goals and 52 assists (83 points) in 68 games. Based mostly on that resume, NHL Central Scouting still ranked him fourth on its final list of the top North American skaters for the 2012 draft.
Teams likely were hoping he'd slip, but the Canadiens weren't letting him get past No. 3.
"That's the guy we wanted," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said after making the selection. "I like his size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), I like his character, I like his hockey sense, I like his vision, and I like his desire to be a hockey player.
"He's a big, talented centerman with great vision and his character is off the charts. I saw it in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life and nothing is going to stop him from being the best hockey player he can be."
The only thing that stopped Galchenyuk last season was his knee injury, and time. He didn't play his first game of the 2011-12 season until March 14, then Sarnia was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
"In Sarnia, Game 5, Game 6 [of the playoffs], I was getting my game back, and then it was summer," Galchenyuk told NHL.com. "Now I'm starting over again."
He did well at this week's camp, scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist in five games. He looked at his best centering a line with Reid Boucher, his frequent linemate in Sarnia, and J.T. Miller, who played in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers.
"I thought he improved every day," U.S. coach Phil Housley said of Galchenyuk. "The thing about Alex's game is he improved every day but I really liked the compete level. He goes in the areas that are tough to go in. Eventually he worked his way through, and for a young guy that didn't see a lot of ice last year, he got rewarded in the Sweden game with a goal."
Galchenyuk watched Saturday's camp finale from the stands as the United States lost to Finland 3-2 in overtime. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Tyler Biggs scored twice for Team USA, but Miro Aaltonen got loose on a breakaway and knocked in the rebound of his own shot at 2:11 of overtime to win it.
A power-play goal by Finland's Markus Hannikainen late in the second period opened the scoring, but Biggs tied the game at 10:17 of the third when he redirected Matthew Grzelcyk's point shot past Finland goalie Janne Juvonen.
Artturi Lehkonen put Finland ahead at 14:33 of the third when he banged in a loose puck in the crease, but Biggs again answered, lifting his own rebound over a fallen Juvonen with 2:44 left in regulation to force overtime.
Galchenyuk said he'll return to Sarnia feeling positive about what he accomplished this week.
"It was exciting to be here and skate with the top players, wear the USA jersey, play against competitors like Finland and Sweden," he said. "It was exciting."
It's also just what he needed. His short spurts on the ice since recovering from his knee injury haven't been enough for him to rediscover his full complement of skills.
U.S. defenseman Connor Murphy, Galchenyuk's teammate with Sarnia, knows just what Galchenyuk is capable of doing when fully healthy.
"I think he's one of those guys that's a game-changer," Murphy told NHL.com. "He's a guy that can control the game with a move in the neutral zone. He's got that vision and that awareness and that shot, the quick release, that can really help the team."
But to fully do that, Galchenyuk knows he has to get himself into actual games. He tried to do some of that over the summer at the Canadiens' development camp, but Galchenyuk said that was more skill-based training than game action.
"There you don't get in game shape," he said. "You work on skating and shooting, skills, off-ice, nutrition. You get those things better. Here you play games, get in game shape."
Murphy, who went through his own injury woes last season, saw first-hand how hard Galchenyuk is willing to work to get back to where he needs to be.
"He's a really hard worker and in Sarnia he's a guy … you can see him late in the gym when he wasn't playing," Murphy said. "He was really motivated. He hated watching and not being a part of the team on the ice. I think he really … with the size he is now and from what I've seen on the ice so, far he's really worked hard to come back."
He'll continue that work for the rest of the summer. Galchenyuk, who signed his entry-level contract in July, is scheduled to attend Canadiens training camp, but with almost a full season of development lost, it's likely he'll be back in Sarnia for the 2012-13 season. Galchenyuk said he used this week's camp almost like an early preseason.
"It's a great opportunity for me to prepare for the upcoming season," he said. "Just get that game shape back. It's good for every player, even for someone who wasn't injured. It's tough to play in the summer, but I need to get timing back."
It's not there yet, but Galchenyuk said he can feel it coming.
"I want to be better," he said. "I'm trying to work hard and compete hard, but I have to work to get my game to where it has to be."