BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens haven’t given up on hope that Alex Galchenyuk will one day be their top line centre. But heading into the NHL off-season, he remains a left-winger.
General manager Marc Bergevin and coach Claude Julien met with the 2012 third overall draft pick on Monday at exit meetings following their first round playoff loss to the New York Rangers.
“He’s aware of the improvements he needs to make to be the centreman he hopes to be,” said Bergevin. “But for now the best place for him is on the wing.
“This season really opened his eyes.”
Galchenyuk’s status is a recurring subject of debate among fans and media, many of whom wish to see his skill and cannon shot used with top wingers and first-line ice time.
But the 23-year-old, who is due to become a restricted free agent this summer in position for a lucrative long-term deal, has not developed in five NHL seasons into the consistent force the club was looking for.
Now Bergevin says he hopes Galcheyuk “took one step back this year to take two steps forward next year.”
Galchenyuk earned the top line job with a late-season scoring binge in 2015-16 that got him 30 goals and averaged nearly a point per game mainly in that spot early in this season until he suffered an injury. But he struggled on his return and soon found himself back on the wing.
He started the playoffs as left-wing on the fourth line, although he moved up to the third unit plus power play duty. He had no goals and three assists in the post-season.
“Ideally, we’ve love to have him play centre but I think he realizes what we do now,” said Julien. “Centreman is one of the toughest jobs there is because you’ve got to be all over the ice and be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”
Whatever management says, Galchenyuk has teammates pulling for him.
“Everyone wants that guy that’s going to make the difference, a difference-maker, and I think we’ve got it in him,” said defenceman Shea Weber. “He’s just got to find that consistency.
“He’s a great, young player, but at the same time it’s a hard league and you’ve got to be able to do it every night. We’ve seen glimpses of it, but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, and he’s going to get it.”