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Centre of attention

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

LAVAL SUR LE LAC – When the members of the Canadiens organization reunited last year at the Laval-Sur-le-Lac Golf Club for the team’s annual golf tournament, the organization made the surprising announcement that they had chosen four alternate captains in place of naming a team captain.

Though a full year has passed since last year’s golf tournament, the attention surrounding the future of the Canadiens’ captaincy has remained the same. At this year’s tournament, the 40th edition of the annual fundraiser, general manager Marc Bergevin emphatically confirmed that the team would fit someone for a “C” before the start of the season.

“This year there will be a captain. We cannot announce it today, but we will by the end of training camp,” shared Bergevin. “There are players who arrived last night who didn’t have time to sit down with our team. It would have been premature to do so today.”

Without a captain last season, the Canadiens’ leadership group was comprised of four alternate captains, Max Pacioretty, P.K Subban, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Plekanec. The veteran quartet led the Habs to a 110-point season and a second place finish atop the Eastern Conference standings. Despite last season’s success, the team now faces the tough decision of naming a captain from a number of potential candidates.

“We look for a leader who is respected by his teammates. I think that’s important,” explained Bergevin, who admitted that he believes the team is ready to name a captain. “The transition that began last year has changed us a lot and has helped us make a decision as to whether the team was ready. And after a long discussion, we believe it is.”

Ever since making his return to Montreal in June 2012, coach Michel Therrien has guided the Canadiens’ young core as they continue to develop and mature into respected leaders. Four seasons later, Therrien noted that while he was impressed by the evolution of the leadership group last season, the time is right to take another step forward in that category.

“I thought those guys last year did a fantastic job, they had good communication. I thought it went really well. But we believe this is the time for the organization to name a captain,” said Therrien, echoing the thoughts of the GM. “We said last year was a transition year regarding leadership. We felt by the end of the year, when we all met, that we were ready to name a captain; this is something we want to do before the season.”

Max Pacioretty, one of the prime candidates to become Montreal’s next captain, understands the impact the next captain will have on the legacy and history of the Canadiens.

“There are so many great captains who have been named throughout the years in Montreal and whoever gets it should be absolutely honored to be a part of that,” recognized Pacioretty, who assumed a greater leadership role, both on the ice and in the dressing room last season. “I think last year prepared me a lot for this, I think whether you have a ‘C’ on your jersey or not, you are expected to lead this team and we expect everyone to be a leader but like I said, I would be honored if that opportunity came.”

Whoever the team selects as captain for the 2015-16 season, it’s clear the organization has put a lot of time and consideration into making the right decision.

The declaration that the franchise would name a new captain by opening night wasn’t the only news coming from Laval-sur-le-lac. Bergevin also made an important announcement regarding the future of Alex Galchenyuk.

Alex Galchenyuk will play center this year,” confirmed Bergevin. “We see him as a center. Again, it's up to the player to demonstrate his ability to do that, but we’ll give him all the tools necessary for him to succeed.”

Therrien, who utilized Galchenyuk at center for a brief stint before shifting him to the wing for the majority of the season, is cautiously optimistic about the transition.

“As a coach I really like the way he’s developing as a player. Understanding the game is very important and I don’t want Alex to lose any confidence,” maintained Therrien. “That’s a big part of having success as a player, but we are at a time in his career where he has to take the next step. That’s what I shared with Alex, and he’s embracing the challenge and looking forward to it and he can’t wait for training camp to begin.”

Now 21 years old, Galchenyuk is confident that he is ready to take the next big step in his career.

“It’s a huge step for me; it’s a little different from playing wing. I can’t wait to start. I think it’s really huge to know this so far in advance,” admitted an excited Galchenyuk, who is looking to build on a 2014-15 campaign that saw him register his first 20-goal season in the NHL. “At the end of the day, I have to prove that I can do the job and help the team win.”

Playing center in the NHL can be demanding, especially for a 21-year-old with high expectations, but Galchenyuk has spent the offseason prepping for the opportunity.

“My main focus this summer was to get prepared mentally and physically to be ready for the season, explained Galchenyuk. “After playing three years in the NHL, I’ll use it to my advantage. The more you get to play the game, the more you feel comfortable.”

With the season opener now less than a month away, Galchenyuk will be eager to prove to his coach, the fans – and his new team captain – that he can flourish as a center at the NHL level.

Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com.

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