One of the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk
, returned to the lineup for the first time in 66 games on Wednesday to the delight of the hometown faithful at RBC Centre in Sarnia.
Galchenyuk, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Sept. 16 preseason game and underwent surgery in October, said he felt no pain following the game. The only pain felt was the postgame sting that accompanied a 7-1 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.
He totaled approximately 10 minutes of ice time and played on a line with Brett Thompson
and Charles Sarault.
Despite the long absence, there's a strong possibility Galchenyuk still could be drafted among the top 10 players in the first round of this year's draft. He's ranked as a "limited viewing" player on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, but was No. 2 among OHL skaters in Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.
Playing alongside top North American draft prospect, Sarnia's Nail Yakupov
, Galchenyuk produced 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games last season. It was enough to make believers out of any scout who had the opportunity to watch him play. Yakupov is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.
On Wednesday, NHL.com caught up with Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who provided immediate reaction to Galchenyuk's performance.
"Despite the loss, I could certainly see the high-end talent that Galchenyuk has," Jensen told NHL.com. "His shifts during the game were limited and very short as was to be expected. He's an excellent skater, very strong strides. He didn't get any chances but handled the puck well with confidence and made a couple of nice passes.
"He's got great hands overall for a player that has missed so much time this year with the injury. It looks very promising for him moving forward -- he's an excellent prospect."
Galchenyuk, who finished with a minus-3 rating in the game, filed an exclusive blog for NHL.com following his 2011-12 debut -- an experience he said was quite overwhelming.
"It was strange being on the ice for the anthems," Galchenyuk wrote. "Last year I played all 68 games and didn't even miss a single practice. Most of this season, I was in the press box listening to the anthem. Now I'm standing in skates on the ice. It was a pretty cool experience. Just thinking about trying to get here, waiting for this moment -- it was pretty special.
"I got a real nice reaction from the fans when my name was announced for the starting lineup. It was pretty loud and I really appreciated that."
Read Galchenyuk's blog here.
Sarnia general manager and coach Jacques Beaulieu, whose team has two regular-season games remaining before the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, was happy to see Galchenyuk back on the ice.
"We knew it was going to be tough on him," Beaulieu told Sarnia's website. "The game is going 100 miles an hour and he's going about 50 miles per hour. He's got to get used to the pace of the game and the systems. But we know he's a good player and he will adjust."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale