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Canadiens to name captain, put Galchenyuk at center

by Arpon Basu

LAVAL, Quebec -- There are significant changes coming to the Montreal Canadiens.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced Thursday that they will name a captain by the end of training camp and that Alex Galchenyuk will move from left wing to center.

The Canadiens did not replace Brian Gionta as captain when he left to sign as a free agent with the Buffalo Sabres last summer. They instead went with four alternate captains last season: defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, center Tomas Plekanec and left wing Max Pacioretty.

Bergevin would not say whether it will be one of those four players who will be named captain or if there might be another candidate considered. He said the decision to name a captain after the leadership-by-committee approach last season was that the Canadiens are ready to have one, and the decision may have been rushed if they chose one last season.

"Last year we made the decision that we weren't ready [to name a captain]," Bergevin said at the Canadiens' annual charity golf tournament Thursday. "But the way our group of leaders, as a whole, learned and evolved, we feel today that we're ready."

The decision to move Galchenyuk to center might have been the bigger news of the day.

Galchenyuk was the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and ever since that day Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien have maintained he would one day become a center. Galchenyuk has at times played center with the Canadiens, but most of his ice time has come at left wing.

With Galchenyuk, 21, starting his fourth NHL season, Bergevin said the time was right to find out if he is able to play in the middle full-time.

"Centerman is a hard position to learn," Bergevin said. "There's a lot of responsibility as a centerman, offensively and defensively. There's signs that hockey people, our staff, look for, and we felt that he wasn't ready at the time. Now we feel that he is getting really close, and it's time for us to know and for him to know if he can really fill that role."

At the end of last season, Bergevin said he wasn't sure if Galchenyuk ever would become a full-time center, the first time publicly he had raised that possibility. Bergevin said the same thing when he met with the media on July 2, and Therrien also said it at his charity golf tournament last month.

However, Bergevin said Thursday he and Therrien met with Galchenyuk in Florida prior to the draft in late June to tell him that he would play center this season and that he should prepare accordingly.

"It's really huge, especially for a young player like me, to come in knowing your role, knowing your position, just to be confident [in] yourself and to come into games knowing what you have to do and not worry about what position you have to play out there," Galchenyuk said. "But at the end of the day I still have to prove I'm good for the job and that I can help the team win."

Moving Galchenyuk to center creates a competition for the three other spots in the middle. The Canadiens have Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Torrey Mitchell, who all played center last season. One of them will have to go to the wing to accommodate Galchenyuk's move.

Galchenyuk played 12 games at center last season and had four goals and nine points playing between Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Desharnais was the one who moved to left wing at the time, and he scored four of his 14 goals in those 12 games.

"I'm not surprised, [Galchenyuk] is a good player and eventually he was going to move to center," Desharnais said. "I was able to play on the wing last season. Personally, I will do whatever the coach asks me to do. I'm comfortable on the wing with my experience last season. We have a very good team and everyone can play everywhere. I just want to help the team win."

Therrien did not reveal which center would be moved to the wing, but the important thing is that Galchenyuk no longer will be playing there unless he is unable to do the job at center.

"I don't want Alex to lose any confidence," Therrien said. "I think that's a big part of having success as a player. But we're at a time in his career where we have to go to the next level. This is what I shared with Alex and he embraced the challenge. He's looking forward to it and I can't wait for training camp to start."

Canadiens players report for physicals and testing Sept. 17.

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