Galchenyuk won’t be at centre when Canadiens start their season
The Canadiens’ training camp doesn’t start until Friday, when players report to Brossard for their physicals, but one thing already appears to be settled: Alex Galchenyuk won’t be starting the season at centre.
General manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien made that pretty clear when they met separately with the media before the start of the team’s annual golf tournament Monday morning at Laval-sur-le-Lac.
“Until further notice, Alex will be playing wing and then we’ll experiment with Jo in the middle,” Bergevin said. “Time will tell.”
“Jo” is Jonathan Drouin, acquired in the summer from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for top defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
Galchenyuk was the first player Bergevin drafted after taking over as general manager five summers ago, taking him with the No. 3 overall pick at the 2012 NHL entry draft. The GM said he has seen enough of Galchenyuk since then to know he’s still not ready to be an NHL centre.
“Centreman is a tough position, demanding,” Bergevin said. “I’m sure as we speak today, Alex is not able to play that position every day. I don’t need 10 more tries ... I know he’s not. And if I see at some point it changes ... it’s a hard position. Some guys figure out later on ... it’s possible that he does, but as we speak today it’s not the case.”
When asked how Galchenyuk could learn to be a centre while being put at wing, Bergevin responded: “I think it comes with maturity. I said earlier, a centreman — or any other position — you don’t have the puck on your stick a lot and you have to be able to play without the puck. And when you’re playing against top forwards, you’re getting exposed — and from what I’ve seen in the past, Alex wasn’t ready to fill that role. He might never be able to, but until further notice we’re going to leave him on the wing.”
Said Julien about Galchenyuk: “I think in Chucky’s case right now — for his own good and for our own team’s good — we see him more as a winger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think he’s a great shooter and with the right people playing with (him) he’s going to have some success and that’s what we’re looking for with our hockey club is to have some success here. So it’s not about one person, but more about our group. I think we’re going to be a good team as long as we play well as a group.”
Julien didn’t rule out the possibility of Galchenyuk — a left-hand shot — playing right wing. That would create the possibility of a No. 1 line with Drouin at centre between captain Max Pacioretty and Galchenyuk.
“He’s got enough talent he could play anywhere,” Julien said about Galchenyuk. “I know I joked around with the French media and I said he could play defence.”
The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey interrupted the coach, saying: “I don’t think so.”
Julien smiled and said: “Maybe on the power play.”
The coach then added about Galchenyuk: “He’s one of those guys that’s got enough skill that could certainly adjust and one of those guys that actually sometimes can be better snipers from their off wing. We’ve seen that a lot of times.”
As for Drouin being a centre — a position he has played before in junior and in the NHL — Julien noted the Canadiens have eight exhibition games to help him get comfortable there.
“That will give him a lot of opportunities to work with some teammates in that position,” Julien said. “We’re confident it’s going to work and now it’s just a matter of you guys sitting back and seeing it. We’re going to do the same thing from our end of it ... we’re going to look closely at all the things.
“We keep forgetting that there’s still a Phil Danault, who improved a lot last year,” the coach added about other centres on the team. “There’s still an experienced (Tomas) Plekanec, who I thought in the latter half of the season — when I got here — that started probably giving a little bit more offence to his line and they had success. So I feel good about the depth that we have. It’s not about one player, but it’s going to be about the team.”
Julien didn’t totally rule out the possibility of Galchenyuk playing some centre in the future.
“To close the door on anything is a big mistake,” Julien said. “It doesn’t mean that maybe Alex Galchenyuk next year, or it could be a few games this year ... we may need him at centre because of injuries at some point. He’s played there before ... it doesn’t mean he can’t play there at all. You have to do what you have to do as a necessity as a coach.”