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Building a winner

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – February 13, 2044. Alex Galchenyuk just celebrated his 50th birthday. During an interview, a reporter asks him if he remembers the moment that his hockey career really took off.

Galchenyuk wastes little time thinking and replies almost immediately that it was in March 2016. The reporter takes a quick look at the standings and frowns. How is it that he can recall such a precise moment from a time where the Canadiens were struggling and weren’t able to secure a playoff spot?

Galchenyuk scored nine goals in seven games between March 2 and March 15. That’s how. Sixty percent of the time that the Canadiens lit the lamp during that period, it was the 22-year-old young gun who was finding the back of the net.

“I was waiting for a streak like that all season. I knew it was a tough year. I was trying to put the emphasis on my offensive play and I knew that if I kept on working, stayed with the plan and kept on pushing in practice, I’d eventually score,” explained Galchenyuk, who dedicated the highlights of his season to his uncle, who passed away last summer. “My teammates and my linemates were also really generous and made some amazing plays. As an offensive player, you know that you’re going to

have ups and downs. The way my season ended was a high, without a doubt.”

With a phenomenal push, the Canadiens’ No. 27 quickly approached the 30-goal plateau. At 22 years and 57 days old, he began the final regular season game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with 28 goals in the bank. Five minutes and 11 seconds later, his long-time friend Brendan Gallagher set him up for his 29th. Then, in the second period, Galchenyuk reached his milestone by notching his 30th tally of the year with the help of his other linemate Max Pacioretty.

On the play, Galchenyuk became the third-youngest player in franchise history to score 30 goals in a single season. Only Bernard Geoffrion and Stephane Richer managed to accomplish it faster, as both of them reached the mark at the age of 21.

Players under 22 years old
Player Season Ratio of goals scored
Howie Morenz 1924-25 30,1%
Stephane Richer 1987-88 16,8%
Bernard Geoffrion 1951-52 15,4%
Maurice Richard 1943-44 13,7%
Alex Galchenyuk 2015-16 13,6%
Henri Richard 1957-58 11,2%
Mickey Redmond 1969-70 11,1%

“I made sure to collect the puck for that 30th goal. I don’t have it yet, but I’m definitely going to keep it. It’s a really cool thing to have,” explained Galchenyuk, who leads all other players from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft with 160 career points, 27 points clear of his closest rival, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators.

Galchenyuk’s contributions to the Canadiens’ cause in 2015-16 are impossible to ignore. The Milwaukee, WI native scored 13.6 % of his team’s total goals. Among players aged 22 or younger, only Howie Morenz (1924-25 ; 15.4 %), Stephane Richer (1987-88 ; 16.8%), Bernard Geoffrion (1951-52 ; 15.4%) and Maurice Richard (1943-44 ; 13.7%) had more significant seasons than that of Galchenyuk in terms of offensive output in the goal department.

He’s also looking pretty good when compared to a few established NHL stars. While Alex Ovechkin (2007-08 ; 26.9%), Steven Stamkos (2011-12 ; 25.5%), Mike Bossy (1978-79 ; 24.6%) and a few others sit ahead of him, Galchenyuk almost finished inside the Top 20, which is rounded out by Dale Hawerchuk who scored 14.8 % of the Winnipeg Jets’ goals in 1984-85 with 53 markers of his own.

The fact that Galchenyuk was tasked with centering the Canadiens’ top line certainly played an important part in his success this past season.

“That says a lot to me. I take pride in that. I was looking forward to it. I was drafted to be an offensive impact player at that position,” explained Galchenyuk, who was utilized at center for the majority of the season, finishing the year playing alongside Pacioretty and Gallagher. “I work hard every day to make sure that I’m doing good work. Since I’ve been the No. 1 centerman at the end of March, I’m doing everything I can to make it work.”

If everything did work out for Galchenyuk, the same can be said for Pacioretty, who also enjoyed his best times when paired with his fellow American.

“Chucky always had the capacity to become the player that we expected him to be, but it takes time and maturity. I think he’s getting to that level,” admitted the Canadiens’ captain. “When you talk about a team’s top centerman, you talk about the cream of the crop. Guys like Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, guys who don’t get enough credit for the work they do to generate goals. All plays, even the most spectacular ones, begin in the middle of the ice.”

The left-winger, who also closed out the year with 30 goals and finished atop the Canadiens’ goal list for a fourth straight season, believes that Galchenyuk’s evolution as a player extends far beyond his goal total.

“I get the impression that Chucky did good work to realize that playing center is possibly the most important position on the team, with the exception of the goaltender. You want to have the puck on your stick all the time. You also want to be the difference on the defensive side of things. He got better at that. With a good attitude, he’ll only improve,” concluded Pacioretty, the only player in the NHL to have registered a shot on goal in every one of his games in 2015-16.

Based on the progress Galchenyuk displayed in his fourth NHL campaign, chances are that Pacioretty is absolutely right. That’s what everyone is hoping for.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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