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Alex Galchenyuk expects Canadiens to be better

Additions of Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov among center's reasons for optimism

by Sean Farrell / Correspondent

LAVAL, Quebec -- Montreal Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk is grateful All-Star defenseman Shea Weber is on his side now.

Galchenyuk is looking forward to seeing Weber dish out his tough brand of defense for Montreal this season after the Canadiens acquired him in a trade with the Nashville Predators for P.K. Subban on June 29.

"We don't play [the Predators] that often, it was only twice a year, but I remember last year he hit me close to the boards and I couldn't feel my legs for like three days," Galchenyuk said Saturday. "And when he's teeing up for a slap shot, you don't want to be in that lane to block a shot."

Weber's punishing style and hard slap shot make him one of the best players in the NHL, Galchenyuk said.

"If you really think about it, who's one of the toughest guys to play against, he'd definitely be first on my list," Galchenyuk said. "To be able to play with him on the same team, you just can't wait. And he also has that offensive upside. He scored 20 goals last year, and to see a defenseman that can put up those numbers, it also helps. Everybody's talking about forwards, but to see even a defenseman come in and chip in like that offensively, it's great."

After playing left wing most of his first three seasons with Montreal, Galchenyuk, 22, established himself at center last season, when he had NHL career highs of 30 goals and 56 points.

"It was nice to prove to yourself that you can be a great offensive player," he said. "And obviously not making the playoffs was tough, but to hit 30 goals was special for me. It means a lot, but at the same time, once you do that there's always expectations and expectations are even higher for myself and I'm sure for everyone this year, so I'm just looking forward to that."

Galchenyuk, who was selected by Montreal with the No. 3 pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, said his summer training has him feeling bigger, stronger and ready to win. The Canadiens went 19-34-3 after a 19-4-3 start last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his NHL career.

"You don't do it for any other reasons," Galchenyuk (6-foot-1, 207 pounds) said. "You want to win, you want to win for the fans, and to be honest, personally I've never been this excited before a year. I'm super-excited, as everyone on the team. It's always exciting to come back and know that there's something to prove and you know everybody's been training and we have a lot of things to prove and prove people wrong.

"Obviously, it was a disappointing season, but at the same time, it was a negative and we've got to turn it into a positive and just move on from last year and just kill it this year and give our best."

Montreal was without goalie Carey Price, the 2015 winner of the Hart and Vezina trophies, for all but 12 games last season because of injuries.

The signing of free agent forward Alexander Radulov is another reason Galchenyuk is optimistic the Canadiens will rebound. Radulov, 30, had 47 goals and 102 points in 154 games with the Predators from 2006-08 and in 2011-12. He returned to Russia to play the past four seasons and scored 78 goals in 181 games for CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League.

"He'll do well for us and it's something that maybe we've been lacking," Galchenyuk said. "We obviously have a lot of skilled players, but his speed and competitiveness, that's what I love most about him. His competitive drive and his fire and the passion he plays his game with, it's top-notch, so I'm really excited."

Galchenyuk has skated with Radulov in recent days at the Canadiens practice facility, along with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forward Nikita Scherbak, two of Montreal's top prospects.

Though Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is a United States citizen, he speaks Russian. His father, Alexander Galchenyuk, played internationally for the Soviet Union at the 1991 Canada Cup and Belarus at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Video: Recent injury history for Carey Price

Canadiens defensemen Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin will play for Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 next month. The strong Russian presence on the Canadiens is a positive for Radulov, Sergachev and Scherbak, Galchenyuk said.

"I think it makes it easier for them to adjust," he said. "Obviously, Russian's the first language for everyone. It's just exciting. Obviously, cultures are different, but to have talks about Russia or stuff like that, it's always fun. They're all great guys and we have fun with each other."

Galchenyuk took part in a fundraising event on behalf of the Association of Young Stutterers of Quebec, a nonprofit organization that provides support for stutterers ages 2 to 25 and their families.

"Last year, I played a ball hockey tournament with the kids," Galchenyuk said. "The most important thing is just to make sure the kids stay confident in their abilities, even though they're less fortunate, and to make sure they have an exciting life, and to not take a smile off their face but only bring it.

"And when you do stuff like that, you definitely see the kids smile, and that means a lot to me. It's really special and sometimes they're happy to see me, but at the same time, I'm fortunate to be in a position to make sure that I put a smile on a kid's face. It means a lot to me."

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