MONTREAL -- As Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin went about changing the look of his team in the offseason, he had a keen observer in Alex Galchenyuk.
Bergevin traded away defenseman Josh Gorges and allowed a number of older veterans to leave as free agents, including captain Brian Gionta, in an effort to turn the Canadiens over to the younger players that make up their core talent.
Center - MTL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 17 | +/-: 4
Most people took that to mean players like P.K. Subban
and Max Pacioretty
, established stars in the NHL, would be given more important roles with the Canadiens this season.
But Galchenyuk saw it differently.
He decided, at age 20, he would need to become a player the Canadiens could lean on. It is seven games in to the season, but the early returns are that Galchenyuk has become just that.
"There were some changes in the team and I knew the young guys had to step in," Galchenyuk said Tuesday after he scored the tying goal late in the third period of a 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings. "I knew I would have this opportunity to play with guys like that and I knew I had to come in prepared. That really pushed me all summer, to know that it's my third year and I need to make a step to the next level. I'm happy with how things are going right now, but I can't stop. I need to keep improving and keep working harder."
Galchenyuk's goal was his third of the season and gave him seven points in seven games, one behind his center Tomas Plekanec for the team lead, and their line completed by newcomer Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has become an offensive force for Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. Galchenyuk has registered at least a point in all but one of Montreal's seven games, and that was the only game the Canadiens have lost this season in what has been an impressive 6-1-0 start.
When he arrived for the first day of training camp, Galchenyuk boldly said he expected big things from himself this season. The No 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft was entering his third season, a time when many previous high draft picks found their stride and saw their careers take off.
His seven points this season match his total after the first five games last season, when he had a similarly hot start. But Galchenyuk is clearly a different player now, one far more likely to maintain some semblance of his scoring pace and not dip the way he did a year ago when he put up four points in his next 13 games.
Galchenyuk appears to be more confident in general on the ice, but the biggest change might be his confidence to win physical battles.
"I had a great summer of training and definitely got stronger and feel more confident physically," he said. "Every goal going into the summer is to start the year feeling confident about yourself, because when you do that you can do more things on the ice. Physicality is not an issue for me right now."
He showed that Tuesday, when Galchenyuk had a running battle with Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey and never backed down. On the tying goal scored with 3:09 left in the third period Galchenyuk was engaged with Quincey in front of the Red Wings net with a shot coming from the point and was the player left standing, allowing Galchenyuk to grab the puck behind the net and beat Jimmy Howard with a quick wraparound.
A year ago, the constant physical battle with Quincey might have thrown Galchenyuk off his game a little; Tuesday he appeared to thrive because of it.
"That goes with confidence and it goes with maturity as well," Therrien said. "Galchenyuk competes really hard, and that's the reason why he scored that goal, because he competes. His battle level is there, he's playing with a lot of confidence."
The night in Pittsburgh when Bergevin took Galchenyuk with the highest draft pick the Canadiens have had since 1980, he was asked what convinced him to choose a player coming off major knee surgery who had missed all but two games of the 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League regular season with the Sarnia Sting.
Bergevin said simply it was the look in his eyes that sold him on Galchenyuk.
No one but Bergevin and his staff know exactly what that look was, but chances are pretty good it was similar to the one Galchenyuk has every night he's taken the ice this season. There is an intensity about him that wasn't there before, a drive to take his game to the next level that appears to be at the root of his strong start to the season.
"The kid's got character," Therrien said. "This is what we like about him."