29 November 2013, 22:22

VOR’s NHL 1-on-1: staying aggressive with phenom Alex Galchenyuk

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VOR)— NHL fans may not be accustomed to seeing the Montreal Canadiens as a haven of top young prospects, but the team can boast quite a few now, including reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, centerman Lars Eller, and winger Brendan Gallagher. We ask that you include 19 year-old winger Alex Galchenyuk in the list.

The son of Belarus Olympic hockey player Alexander Galchenyuk, Alex is holding down 3rd line minutes for a MTL team that is firmly in the playoff picture, and could even make a serious run in this year’s playoffs. His talents tilt towards speed and attack, but he has all the tools necessary to develop into a player MTL can rely on in all situations in the relatively near future.

Moreover, MTL is happy to share Galchenyuk with the world of international hockey. Alex selected the US as his federation, and has already represented America at the World Junior Championships and the World (senior) Championships (in May 2013, when he took home a bronze medal). And he is understood to be an outside choice for the US Olympic team in Sochi this February.


Medal winner: Galchenyuk celebrates scoring the deciding penalty shootout goal to win bronze over Finland at the 2013 WC

Photo credit: © AFP, Aleksandr Nemenov

We caught up with Alex to ask about his development and his style during MTL’s Thanksgiving trip to Washington. And we got a good look at what he can do in Friday’s game vs. the Capitals.

One point that got away

To our mind, MTL had the better play in this contest, and should have pocketed two points. As it happened, a late equalizer from WSH’s Grabovsky led to a shootout loss. One point got away.

But did MTL give it away by adopting a passive posture late? When criticized after the game for holding his team back with a 2-1 lead in the 3rd period, coach Michel Therien responded that the team was not holding back. That was our impression as well. And one of the most indicative moments involved Galchenyuk himself. With seven minutes left, and a battle underway deep in the RW corner of the offensive zone, he decided not to patrol the blueline in case WSH broke out, but to jump in to try to win the puck. WSH came up with the puck and raced off on an odd-man break (which Galchenyuk helped to break up in front of the MTL goal, thanks to a long backcheck). To VOR’s question about whether Galchenyuk has the freedom to make an aggressive forecheck like that, Therien said: “Yes, he does. We don’t change the way we play. We could have scored in the 3rd .”

Therien told VOR he was satisfied with Galchenyuk’s play (limited to below 14 minutes, and just one short shift with the man-advantage), and he agreed with our assessment of Galchenyuk’s centerman, Lars Eller, having been very strong. Therien rewarded Eller with shorthanded and OT ice time. He carried play on many shifts, set up Galchenyuk for an in-tight chance in the 2nd, drew a penalty in the 3rd, and scored in the shootout. In this game, Eller’s slightly negative Corsi rating (WSH attempted more shots than MTL when he was on the ice) did not do his performance justice.

Galch and Eller

Eller and Galchenyuk in 1st period action Photo credit: VOR

We would expect MTL to make plentiful use of Eller going forward. He’s potent, and Galchenyuk should profit from playing on his wing. Alex can keep up with Eller, and looked fluid vs. WSH in covering the RW side in his own zone and breaking out down the RW when play carried him there. It certainly wasn’t a perfect night--he overskated his own slot during a marathon shift in the 2nd, a decision that almost left Ovechkin with an excellent scoring chance—but he is a valuable piece in MTL’s roster, and should only get better as he gains experience.

Say No to dump and chase

Indeed, investigation of some advanced statistics for Galchenyuk show significant improvement from his rookie performance last season. Christopher Boucher of Boucher Scouting notes that Galchenyuk is drawing more interference penalties (per minute played) than almost any other Canadien this year, up from last place last year. Additionally, he is the second least likely Canadien to dump the puck when he has possession in the neutral zone (just 35% of the time; only David Desharnais dumps the puck in less often).

In other words, he is making plays. And his aggressiveness is not generally costing MTL in terms of puck possession: his Corsi rating for the season is slightly above average for MTL. All this at age 19.

We took the chance to ask Alex about the evidence that he’s getting more effective, and how he has approached his development as a player after practice on Thursday:

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Kerans: I found some good news. I spoke to one of the most advanced statistical analysts for the Canadiens {Christopher Boucher – DK}. He said that this year you’ve been extremely strong at drawing interference penalties {5th on the team per minute played this year, compared to last on the team in the 2012-13 season}, and very good at not dumping the puck in. In other words, of all the Canadiens players, believe it or not, you’re the most unlikely to dump the puck in. You are just skating the puck in.

Brendan Gallagher and Ryan White: (laughing) Yeah, but what about the turnover ratio?

Kerans: Kerans: Yeah we’re not gonna talk about that. I have some bad news too on the statistics, but I won’t tell you the bad news. Anyway, so you’re fast. We know you’re fast. Part of being fast is about anticipation, right? So it’s your second year, you know the league better, you’re more comfortable, right?

Galchenyuk: I don’t know about that. But I’ve always been kind of the same player. I don’t know about not dumping the puck (laughing). Obviously I’ll try to make a play, but if there’s nothing there I’ll dump it in.

Kerans: According to the numbers, you’re not dumping the puck in, and that’s maybe a good thing?

Galchenyuk: Well, I guess so, in some way.

Kerans: On the bad news. Last year, when you’re shooting the puck, it got on net, well over half the time. This year less than half the time. Maybe you’re just shooting more and passing less?

Galchenyuk: Yeah, I definitely have more shots. I’m close to having as many shots as I had all last year.

Kerans: So it’s going fine.

Galchenyuk: It’s going fine, yeah.

Kerans: Tell me, I spoke with a couple of players recently—Frans Nielsen from Denmark {on NYI}, he nevered practiced outdoors, but Vladimir Tarasenko from the Blues, he was always outdoors, four or five hours a day. You moved around a lot, but for creativity it’s great to play outdoors. Did you get to do it a lot?

Galchenyuk: I didn’t get o do it a lot, but when I could I obviously did it, in Russia sometimes. I didn’t have the opportunity to do it as many times as some {players}, but I was on the ice a lot. I had a lot of opportunities to practice on a normal ice rink.


Too bad, Bryz: Galchenyuk finishing off a deft combination to net the winning goal vs. Russia in the World Championship QFs, May 2013 Photo credit: © RIA Novosti, Aleksei Kudenko

Kerans: Did you practice a lot by yourself, without supervision, pickup hockey? Or were you always with coaches and teams, other than the times you were outdoors?

Galchenyuk: Oh, I played a lot with myself or with my dad, practiced a lot on skills.

Kerans: Are you the type of guy who teaches yourself? Some guys just learn by doing it. They just play, “let me play”. And they play on their strengths. But some guys say “I’m weak at this, so I’m going to practice this.” Are you that type of guy?

Galchenyuk: Yeah, if I don’t like something in my game I obviously want to practice it. I want to be as complete a player as I can be, and be comfortable with anything that comes to you in the game.

Kerans: And what about your dad? I spoke with Tarasenko recently, and he said he learned a lot from his dad. I’m sure you did too. If I were to ask you to name one or two things that come to mind that you learned from your dad, what would you say? Could it be a psychological thing? Maybe it’s a technical thing?

Galchenyuk: Oh, there’s so many things he’s told me, and still tells me, so I couldn’t really pick out one of them.

Kerans: What about power skating, about having a coach that teaches specifically skating? Some players have done it, some have never done it.

Galchenyuk: To be honest with you I had a couple of practice sessions like that, but I was never too big on it.

Kerans: In Russia, coaches traditionally have been pretty severe guys. Here do you notice a difference? You’ve played in Russia, you’ve played here. Of course times have changed, but the coaching atmosphere, from what you know, and from people you speak with—is it easier and more cooperative here than in Russia? Or is it about the same?

Galchenyuk: I don’t know. I mean it’s hard to say what’s better or worse. It’s definitely different, but it’s not that big a deal for me.

Kerans: Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, and Steve Shutt. Are those names familiar to you?

Galchenyuk: Yeah, I know.

Kerans: And coach Tehrien—I’m sure you get along with him fine, but does he ever get frustrated with and just speak to the team in French? Does that ever happen

Galchenyuk: No! (laughing)

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