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Galchenyuk hopes to pick up right where he left off

Forward had two goals and an assist on Minnesota's three-game trip to California before stoppage

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps no player on the roster is more eager to get back to hockey than Wild forward Alex Galchenyuk. 

Traded to Minnesota from Pittsburgh about a month before the NHL shutdown because of COVID-19, Galchenyuk was finally starting to feel comfortable with his new team and in his spot in the lineup. 

"Comfort" is a tough word to discern for any athlete. It isn't always a good thing, especially if it implies that a player is resting on their laurels or accepting mediocre play.

In the case of Galchenyuk, it was more of a literal translation ... Playing for his third team in a calendar year, Galchenyuk has moved around plenty over the last year or two, so finding his place in the locker room was crucial.

"It is what it is. There are way worse things that happen in the world than just us stopping playing hockey," Galchenyuk said. "But I think I was finding my game, and not just me personally, but as a line, we were clicking really well and as a team, we had a lot of momentum going in."

Galchenyuk came to the Wild with the flexibility to play both wing and center, actually starting his tenure with the Wild playing left wing. 

Eventually, he would get a chance to move back to center, and that's when his play really picked up. Flanked by Marcus Foligno and Mats Zuccarello, the trio was at its best in Anaheim in the final game before the shutdown. 

The three combined to score Minnesota's first goal of that game and Galchenyuk would score a critical goal late in the third period, one which gave the Wild a brief lead with 5:40 left in regulation.

Video: MIN@ANA: Galchenyuk nets opportunistic goal in front

The Ducks would eventually tie the game, but Minnesota would win in overtime on a goal by Kevin Fiala. 

The trio was responsible for two goals the day before in Los Angeles and Galchenyuk scored once in Minnesota's win in San Jose to start that trip with a 3-2 win over the Sharks. 

On the trip, Galchenyuk had three points in three games, was a plus-2 

"I think it took us a game or two or three to just kind of get used to each other," Foligno said. "The last couple games going into obviously play suspended, we were a good line and we just started to figure out some things, what our tendencies are, what makes us work, and [Galchenyuk's] confidence level grew."

Perhaps even more than the last trip, it was the team's father's trip back in February that defined Galchenyuk's brief time in Minnesota, and showed the kind of ceiling the 26-year-old forward still has.

His game-tying goal with under five minutes left in regulation assured the Wild of a point, but it was his highlight-reel finish in the shootout which got the trip off on the right note and earned Minnesota the victory. 

Video: MIN@VAN: Galchenyuk roofs backhander for SO winner

Two nights later in Edmonton, Galchenyuk assisted on two goals, was a plus-1 and led the team with six hits.  

"I think the Vancouver game on the fathers' trip really stuck out to me with him," Foligno said. "When he plays with confidence and he holds onto the puck and he makes those plays, he's a tremendous player and I've played against him in Buffalo when he was in Montreal for a long time. He's had numerous goals against us and he's got a great shot. 

"Hopefully we can just continue it and pick up where he left off because we talk about it too, our line is something that can be critical in a series and for our team just to give us that secondary scoring."

If indeed the Wild has found another reliable center in Galchenyuk, it lengthens the team's lineup as a whole, especially down the middle. 

Between Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, the Wild has two veteran centermen who can fill a variety of roles. Joel Eriksson Ek seems like a natural to shadow Vancouver's Elias Pettersson. 

Galchenyuk, who scored 30 goals for the Canadiens in 2015-16 and 50 points as recently as two seasons ago, has an opportunity to be a big-time difference maker in this series, and hopefully moving forward.

Video: Galchenyuk chats with the media

"The center ice position is very, very important. We're real happy with what he's able to provide us up the middle," said Wild coach Dean Evason. "He's been on different clubs in the last few years and bounced around the last little bit. I think he's comfortable, and not complacent; I think he's comfortable around his teammates. He's comfortable within our system and he's playing not complacent. He's playing hungry. 

"He looks like he's having fun playing hockey."

Which wasn't easy to do the past couple of years. 

Drafted third overall by the Canadiens in 2012, Galchenyuk debuted that season by playing in all 48 games of a lockout-shortened campaign, scoring nine goals and 27 points as an 18-year-old.

His 30-goal season came in his fourth year with Montreal, and he looked like a star in the making. But an injury in 2016-17 limited him to just 61 games and in 2017-18, Galchenyuk was a minus-31 despite scoring 19 goals and 51 points.

He was shipped to Arizona the following summer, where he spent only one season. He was traded again during the summer of 2019 to Pittsburgh, where he skated in just 45 games before being dealt to the Wild.

Finding his place hasn't been easy in a while, but it seemed like he was on the right track before the shutdown. Galchenyuk hopes to find that place again and pick up where he left off.

"I was happy I was a difference in those big games. You always want to be a big part of success," Galchenyuk said. "I definitely think I was finding my game, playing better and better. We had a lot of momentum going in, obviously it was four months ago, but a lot of things happened, so it seems like it was a few years back."

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Galchenyuk could very well be on the move once again. But he hopes that isn't the case. He feels like he's found a potential home in Minnesota. All of that, however, will sort itself out later.

"My main focus ... is just to go out there and think about getting back in shape, getting that hockey feel back, working on the chemistry with the line mates and trying to be the best I can in the playoffs," Galchenyuk said. "Thinking about free agency right now is literally pointless for me. But saying that, I love it here, I love the guys, the team, everything. So hopefully [I'll be back in Minnesota]. We'll see what happens."

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