PITTSBURGH - In a move that will help define the new regime of the Montreal Canadiens for the next decade and beyond, the Habs picked centre Alex Galchenyuk of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting third overall at the NHL draft Friday night.
Despite a knee injury that limited him to just eight games last season, Galchenyuk looks to be what the Habs need: a talented offensive centre with some size (6-foot-1 and 194 pounds).
"It was a good combination," said Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens director of player procurement and player development, referring to taking the best player available and filling an organizational need.
Despite his Russian heritage, Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee (his dad, Alex, Sr., played for the Admirals of the American Hockey League) and is an American for international hockey purposes. The threat of taking a Russian player who might bolt to the Kontinental Hockey League at the first sign of trouble doesn't appear to be an issue in this case.
Timmins said he was impressed with Galchenyuk’s attitude.
"He doesn’t just want to play in the NHL," he said, "he wants to be one of the best of the players in the NHL."
"I'm so proud and honoured to wear this jersey," said Galchenyuk. "Today I woke up in the morning and my stomach was kind of going, I didn't want to eat and I feel nervous a little bit, but right now it's normal again. I'm just so excited. My heart is racing like I'm running. I have an unbelievable feeling inside of me."
Galchenyuk went two picks after teammate Nail Yakupov, who became the third Russian to be drafted first overall, joining Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001 and Alex Ovechkin in 2004.
"It's special," Galchenyuk said of Yakupov's selection. "He deserved it. He's a great guy and an unbelievable hockey player. I'm just happy for him.
"I'm proud of him and he's definitely proud of me and we're just happy for each other."
Galchenyuk said his performance in the final two regular-season games and six playoff games, as well as his work at the NHL combine in Toronto, should show that he is over the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered in the pre-season.
"I went to the combine and showed my knee is sound. I knew there were going to be no issues," he said. "It's 100% healed. The question kind of got annoying a little bit. I just worked so hard. It's 100%. I'm ready to go."
"We did our homework," said Timmins, who revealed the Habs brought Galchenyuk to Montreal to be examined by team doctors. "I was assured the surgery was successful and the knee was tight and to select the player based on his upside."
Timmins said he was reassured about taking Galchenyuk given his own experience with the Ottawa Senators when Marian Hossa suffer the same kind of knee injury.
"(Hossa) had a severe, similar injury in the last game he played in major junior. He came back, bigger, stronger, faster," said Timmins. "This is what Alex has done. He trained really hard during his recovery phase. We really feel he has more growth left in him physically."
Galchenyuk, who said he takes pride in being a two-way hockey player, said his goal is to play in the NHL next season.
"I believe in myself ... I always set the goal high and my goal is to play next year and contribute to the team," he said.