Alex Galchenyuk has no interest in looking back. And it’s easy to understand why.
After getting traded three times in 20 months, the third overall pick at the 2012 NHL draft signed a one-year, US$1.05-million contract with the Ottawa Senators — his fifth team since June 2018 — as an unrestricted free agent earlier this week.
“I have a lot to prove — to myself, to a lot of people,” Galchenyuk said on a video conference call with reporters Friday. “I’m definitely hungrier than ever.”
The 26-year-old forward’s odyssey through the league began when the Montreal Canadiens shipped him to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi following the 2017-18 season. Galchenyuk, who put up career highs with 30 goals and 56 points in 2015-16, had decent numbers in the desert, but was subsequently dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins just 379 days later in the Phil Kessel swap.
And he would last just 45 games there before getting flipped to the Minnesota Wild in February as part of the Jason Zucker exchange.
“Really tough year,” said Galchenyuk, who finished with a combined eight goals and 24 points in 59 games, and was held off the scoresheet in four post-season outings. “Sometimes you need a year like this to centre yourself and to love yourself, and to really understand what you want to become and how you want to play.
“It was a big moment for me to realize that.”
He added there’s no point in picking apart what worked and what didn’t during his previous stops. It’s about what comes next.
“My head is not back there anymore,” Galchenyuk said. “My focus is on making it right with Ottawa.”
In the nation’s capital with the rebuilding Senators, he sees an opportunity for himself and the team.
“I had a certain level of success early in my career and then things started going the other way,” Galchenyuk said. “I want to not just get back to the game that I had, I want to elevate that. I know I have that.”
Born in Milwaukee to Belarusian parents when his father was playing hockey in the U.S., he’s been training in the Phoenix area since the Wild were eliminated in the qualifying round of the NHL’s return to play this summer.
“I’m working towards the truth,” said Galchenyuk, who pointed to foot speed and consistency as areas he’s looking to improve. “I know what kind of player I am, I know what kind of player I want to be.”
A veteran of 549 regular-season games and 32 post-season contests heading into his ninth NHL campaign, he’s the latest addition to a stable of new, veteran faces in the nation’s capital that includes goalie Matt Murray, sniper Evengii Dadonov, defencemen Erik Gudbranson and Josh Brown, and grinding forward Austin Watson.
There’s also youngsters and franchise cornerstones like blue-liner Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk, as well as 2020 No. 3 overall pick Tim Stuetzle.
“I’ve been places, I’ve had experience in big games,” Galchenyuk, who has 135 goals and 320 points in his career, said of serving as a mentor. “I realize how important the older guys are for the team and the leadership, especially coming from Pittsburgh and seeing how things are done there.
“It was inspiring, encouraging and something I want to bring to the table.”
Like a lot of the NHL’s middle class, Galchenyuk took a significant pay cut this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic after earning nearly $5 million each of the last three seasons, but money wasn’t the primary concern as he aims to resurrect his career.
“You’re skating, you’re training … you just want to know what colours you’re going to wear,” Galchenyuk said. “That was the main thing — to get it done and get some weight off the shoulders.
“It’s back to business now.”
There will be some familiar faces to greet him in Ottawa whenever training camp begins ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. Galchenyuk knows some of the Russians on the roster, and played alongside Murray and Gudbranson with the Penguins.
“It’s a small world,” he said. “That’s the best thing about the game — meeting new people, winning together, going through things and building relationships for the rest of your life.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity … I can’t wait to be back in Canada.”
And hopefully turn the page on what has been by far the most tumultuous stretch of his professional life.
“I’m so over what happened,” Galchenyuk said. “Whatever was negative, I left it behind me.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press