-- The Montreal Canadiens have made every effort to make the 2012-13 season into a fresh start for a once proud franchise that had lost its way with a new management team, a new coaching staff and now, a potential young star they hope can one day become the new franchise player.
The Canadiens delivered good news to the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on Monday, informing Alex Galchenyuk he would not be going back to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League and that a hockey career that has taken the 18-year-old all over Europe and the United States would be settling down in Montreal for the foreseeable future.
"I came here from day one trying to work hard and in a short camp to show what kind of player I am," Galchenyuk said after practice Monday. "I guess it turned out pretty good."
You could say that.
The Canadiens did not have the benefit of any preseason games over this season's shortened training camp to properly evaluate Galchenyuk's ability to play at the NHL level, but they were allowed five regular season games to watch him before being forced to decide whether they wanted to burn the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to his junior team.
Center - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 7 | +/-: 2
Ultimately, the Canadiens only needed four games to see Galchenyuk's place was in Montreal. And while there was no need to do so at this time, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin also told fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher on Monday that he would be staying with the Canadiens for the foreseeable future as well.
"They're going to add a dimension to our team; they add speed, they add intensity. It was clear to us that they should be part of the team and that they deserved it," Therrien said. "It's all about deserving it. They deserve to be here because of the way they conduct themselves, not only on the ice during games and in practice but also off the ice. It's a whole package."
Galchenyuk and his family have been traveling the globe his entire life following hockey dreams. At first, it was the dreams of his father, Alexander, who played professionally in Russia, the United States, Italy and Switzerland, bringing his wife and son and daughter along with him as he jumped from league to league.
Now, it's young Alex that has his family following him, from Russia where his father was beginning his career as a hockey coach, to Chicago at age 15 to play Midget triple-A, to Sarnia and finally to Montreal, where his mother and sister will be living with him this season. His father is an assistant coach with the Sting and will remain in Sarnia for the time being.
"Wherever my dad went, we all went," Galchenyuk said. "Now it's changed to me; wherever I go, they go."
Right Wing - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 6 | +/-: 2
His sister Anna was the first call Galchenyuk made after exiting a meeting with Therrien and Bergevin on Monday morning before practice, and that was followed shortly thereafter by a call to his parents.
"They're really happy," he said. "It's a dream come true for everyone, not just myself. I wouldn't be here without my family, they worked really hard for me to be where I am right now. They're really proud and I couldn't be more thankful."
Galchenyuk insisted on the day he was drafted in Pittsburgh last June that his No. 1 goal was to make the Canadiens roster this season, and that's what he focused on from that point onward.
Having missed all but two regular season games in 2011-12 with a major knee injury, Galchenyuk was back in Sarnia during the NHL lockout and showed the injury was fully behind him, putting up 61 points in 33 games. He really ramped it up at the beginning of November, putting up 40 points in his final 17 games before leaving for the selection camp for the U.S. junior national team.
Galchenyuk then went to the IIHF World Junior Championship and played a secondary role on the United States gold medal team, but still showed he was able to cope with the increased speed and intensity as an underage player.
He rolled that momentum right into Canadiens training camp, and right onto their roster.
But Galchenyuk is far from satisfied.
"It's definitely just the beginning," he said. "Since I was drafted I put the draft away and focused on coming here to make the team. With the lockout, I went to junior and tried to get better. I came here focused on making the team, if I didn't I definitely would have been disappointed, but now I'm not just going to relax and chill out. I want to prove to them it was a good decision."
Both Galchenyuk and Gallagher have impressed their Canadiens teammates with their attitudes and willingness to learn, but of course neither of those things would matter much if they weren't able to keep up on the ice.
The two rookies have been playing with veteran enforcer Brandon Prust the past three games and have shown immediate chemistry, with Gallagher and Prust each scoring off Galchenyuk feeds Sunday in a 4-3 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.
"They both work hard, they play a pretty honest game and they've got the talent," goaltender Carey Price said. "They're both really good kids, they're really quality people. There's no arrogance to them, that's a big thing when you're a young guy; you have to stay humble because you have to earn the respect of your teammates."
It would be difficult not to respect the journey Gallagher has taken to reach this point. A walk-on with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League as a 16-year-old, Gallagher worked his way from being the team's 13th forward, up to the fourth line, then the third and finally finishing the season on the team's second line. He then proceeded to put up three straight 40-goal seasons, becoming the Giants' franchise leader in points, and now in his first professional season Gallagher has reached the NHL after being a fifth round pick in the 2010 draft.
"I came to the rink thinking it would be a normal day and I was getting ready for practice when they called me in and gave me the good news. It was pretty cool," said a beaming Gallagher, who will be living with defenseman Josh Gorges. "So far this season I've shown the coaching staff I can help the team win games. That's all I want to do, is be a contributor to a winning team. If I can continue to do that, I can hopefully continue to stay in the lineup."
One factor that was playing in both players' favor was the presence of Therrien, who has a history of developing young players from his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He oversaw the initial years of the careers of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Maxime Talbot, Ryan Whitney and others while with the Penguins, and though Therrien does not want to compare the two situations, he feels confident he can have a positive impact on the two Canadiens rookies he will be taking under his wing.
"I have a plan to work with those young kids, and I guess my experience is certainly going to help me," Therrien said. "I will make sure they're going to get better."