Alex Galchenyuk has yet to play a game in the Ontario League, but you’d already need a scorecard to follow his career.
“I’ve lived in Italy, Germany, Russia, U.S.…I think that’s it,” he said.
That’s a pretty good travel card for a 16-year-old.
Galchenyuk was the top pick in the OHL draft last month and he’ll suit up for the Sarnia Sting next year. How he got to Sarnia is pretty intriguing, though.
Galchenyuk’s father, also named Alex, was a veteran of the Russian Super League, the precursor to the Kontinental League. After years playing for Dynamo Moscow, he headed to Milwaukee in 1992 to play for the minor-league Admirals. During his stint, Alex junior was born. Stops around the Midwest and then Europe followed, before the family returned to Russia. When the younger Alex came over to play in a Silver Stick tournament outside Toronto, his team took in an Oshawa Generals game when John Tavares was the star. That was the night everything changed.
“I liked the atmosphere,” Galchenyuk said. “It was a special moment for me. I had never seen 5,000 people watching juniors before.”
With the seed planted, the Galchenyuks pulled up their stakes again and moved to Chicago, where Alex joined the Midwest Elite League’s Chicago Young Americans in order to be eligible for the OHL draft the next season. Playing against top minor midget competition (the circuit also features teams such as Detroit Honeybaked and Compuware), Galchenyuk destroyed opposing nets. He led the league in scoring with 44 goals and 87 points in 38 games, winning the title by a margin of 19 goals and 33 points.
He also found a pretty good North American liaison who knew his father: Hall of Famer Igor Larionov, who lives in Michigan.
“I’ve known his dad for a long time,” Larionov said. “So when they came to North America, I went out to watch the kid play. I was very pleased.”
Larionov compared Galchenyuk to Marian Hossa and thinks the kid will do well in the OHL.
“His hockey sense and his abilities are incredible,” Larionov noted. “He knows how to take a hit, how to give a hit and he has great instincts.”
For a Sarnia team that essentially bottomed out once golden boy Steven Stamkos headed to the NHL, Galchenyuk represents a key puzzle piece on a young roster already featuring talents such as Brandon Francisco and Brett Ritchie.
“We went into this year with a plan and part of that plan was to recoup a lot of draft picks,” said Sarnia coach-GM Dave MacQueen. “We were a young team and we knew we’d take our lumps. We knew we wouldn’t win a lot of games. But hopefully in two or three years we’re in the ballpark with the big boys.”
But Galchenyuk opens up a lot of intriguing possibilities for the Sting. Not only is he a dynamic talent, but he also speaks three languages: Russian, English and Italian. And while the Italian may not have a lot of relevancy right now, the first two do. That’s because Sarnia also holds the second overall pick in the Canadian League import draft – and there are several high-profile Russians available who would be a lot more comfortable with a translator on their new team.
“With that second pick, we’d love to put another top-end guy in our lineup,” MacQueen said. “We’d be naïve to think we couldn’t get a top European.”
Some possibilities would be Maxim Kitsyn or Evgeny Kuznetsov, both eligible for the NHL draft this summer. Larionov, however, warned about the KHL’s signing policies and how that could affect a transfer to the OHL.
“From my point of view, it would be great,” he said. “But it will be very hard. They sign the Russian kids at age 16 for five years.”
Exceptions have been made, though. Alexander Burmistrov was allowed to come to Barrie this season and enjoyed great success because of it. For Galchenyuk, he’s just happy to go into next season wearing the Sting’s yellow and black sweater.
“I’m really excited about it and glad to be part of the OHL,” he said. “Sarnia is a hockey town with great people and a great organization.”
It’s also the latest stop on a young man’s global hockey tour.
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