MONTREAL - Alex Galchenyuk had high hopes for 2016-17 after scoring 30 goals in a career-best season a year prior, and he was ready to do even more.
In early December, Montreal's first-round pick from 2012 was averaging almost a point-per-game with nine goals and 23 points in 25 games, leading the team in that category, when he collided with Anze Kopitar in an afternoon tilt in Los Angeles towards the end of the longest road trip of the season.
When he got back to Montreal a few days later, the worst was confirmed: his right knee was injured, putting Galchenyuk on the shelf for at least six weeks, maybe more.
He returned to action exactly six weeks later, putting up four points in five games before being forced to miss another 11 days due to another, albeit minor, injury to the same knee.
"It was a tough thing to deal with, but it's part of the game. You can't really find many players who go through a season with no injuries. Everyone hopes for it and wishes for it, but it doesn't really work like that," lamented Galchenyuk. "Injuries are a part of the game. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is and you have to deal with it."
After returning from injury for the second time, the talented forward was limited to three points in 10 games before rediscovering his groove during the Habs' six-game winning streak, during which he contributed six points of his own.
Video: MTL@DET: Galchenyuk scorches one-timer for OT win
But Galchenyuk ran into more hurdles, finding himself separated from his usual linemates - Pacioretty, Radulov or Gallagher, among others - and shuttling between playing on the wing and center.
"It was an up-and-down year, but at the end of the day, as a team we lost in the first round. That's definitely disappointing," recounted Galchenyuk, who collected three assists in six postseason tilts. "We didn't work all year long to be [eliminated in the first round]. It sucks, but we need to learn from our mistakes and bounce back.
"We could sit here all day and talk about what went wrong, but I'm already focused on next year."
Statistics-wise, Galchenyuk still finished the season with 44 points in 61 games, good for third in team scoring. In fact, his points-per-game average of .72 was a career-high since he made his NHL debut in 2013.
His six game-winning goals this season tied with Paul Byron for second on the team, just one behind captain Max Pacioretty (7). Two of those goals were back-to-back overtime winners, first on February 27 against the Devils, then against the Blue Jackets the following night.
Video: CBJ@MTL: Galchenyuk one-times home slapper for OT win
Those stats should help his case when the restricted free agent sits down to negotiate his next contract, a process that will become something of a hot topic in the province over the next few weeks. But while many will be speculating on the term and dollar amount of his next agreement, Galchenyuk himself prefers to focus his attention on his efforts away from the bargaining table.
"Honestly, I don't think about contract stuff too much. I focus on what I have to do on the ice and I let my agent take care of the contract part. I'm going to get some rest, refresh, and keep working hard for next year," explained Galchenyuk, who reiterated his desire to stay put. "I love this team, I love this city, I love the fans - I love everything about Montreal. It's an exciting place to play."
While he waits for October to arrive, Galchenyuk will continue his summer training program in Florida, where he periodically offers fans a glimpse of his grueling summer routine via his Instagram account.
"I'm going to prepare as well as I can for next year. You always have to have the same mindset," outlined Galchenyuk, who finished his fifth NHL campaign this year. "I try to work on some new things every summer, and it sounds cliché, but I always want to get bigger, stronger, and faster.
"It sucks that it's going to be another pretty long summer," he concluded."But I think we're all going to dig and work a bit harder to give ourselves the chance to make the next one a little bit shorter."