BROSSARD, Que. – Alex Galchenyuk feels it is time to step up and become a dominant player, whether it is at centre or on left wing.
The 20-year-old will be tried out at centre during the Montreal Canadiens pre-season after spending most of his first two NHL seasons on the wing.
“The main thing is I want to prove to myself that I can take that extra step to be a more productive player, because I truly believe I can be that player,” Galchenyuk said Thursday as the Canadiens opened camp with medical and fitness testing. “I pushed myself hard in the summer and I just can’t wait to get it started.”
Galchenyuk was mainly a centre for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League when the Canadiens drafted him third overall in 2012, citing his flashy skills as a scorer and playmaker as well as his six-foot-two, 205-pound frame.
General manager Marc Bergevin said this week it was time to see if he can adapt to the centreman’s position at the NHL level, particularly with its defensive demands.
“I’m really confident playing on the wing,” Galchenyuk said. “I like the position.
“I’ve played it a lot. But I don’t know if I’d be better playing at centre or wing. It’s for the coaches to decide. Centre in the NHL is a way different game than centre in junior. Everything has to click. But I’m excited for the challenge. We’ll see where it takes me.”
If he makes the move, one of the four incumbent centres will be bumped to the wing. The four in place are David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller and newcomer Manny Malhotra.
Some feel Eller is most likely to move if Galchenyuk shows he’s ready.
“I think of myself as a centre,” said Eller. “We’ll see what happens.”
Galchenyuk had nine goals and 27 points in 45 games as a rookie in 2012-13 and added 13 goals and 31 points in 65 games last season. They were decent numbers for a teenager whose ice time was carefully managed by coach Michel Therrien, but now they want to see how he handles more responsibility.
Eller, who signed a four-year contract extension in the off-season, was not surprised Galchenyuk will get a look.
“They’ve been saying since they drafted him that they will try him at centre at some point,” he said. “That’s why they drafted him.
“Things have a way of falling into place. Things can change quickly, one way or the other.”
The Canadiens have 64 players in camp, and there have been changes to the team that surprised many by reaching the Eastern Conference final last season.
Gone are captain Brian Gionta and veteran defenceman Josh Gorges, both now with the Buffalo Sabres. Tough guy George Parros is gone. Rearguard Douglas Murray was let go, and veteran Francis Bouillon was not signed but was invited to camp on a try-out.
Newcomers include Malhotra, right winger Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and defenceman Tom Gilbert.
There will be competition in camp for the job of backup goalie to Carey Price between incumbent Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski.
Tokarski looked good late in the season and Therrien opted to put him in when Price was injured in the opening game of the conference final against the New York Rangers.
That decision seemed to hang Budaj out to dry, but he has a year left on a contract that pays US$1.4 million while Tokarski is on a two-way deal, although both would have the clear waivers if sent to AHL Hamilton.
There is also a battle for one or perhaps two spots on defence, with youngsters Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn the leading candidates.
The 21-year-old Beaulieu may have the edge with a strong showing in the conference final after a call-up from Hamilton, but the rushing defenceman is not taking anything for granted.
“The time to step up is now,” said Beaulieu, who has adopted No. 28, which he wore in junior hockey with the Saint John Sea Dogs. “They’re going to give me every opportunity and I’ve got to show I’m ready.
“They did their part by giving me an opportunity at the end of last season and now it’s my turn to reward them.”
Beaulieu, drafted 17th overall in 2011, played 17 regular season NHL games and seven more in the playoffs in 2013-14. The six-foot-six Tinordi, picked 22nd overall in 2010, spent 22 games in Montreal last season, but sat out the post-season. The 24-year-old Pateryn had a good year in Hamilton with 15 goals and 19 assists.
Trading Gorges will allow Alexei Emelin to move to the left side, likely with Gilbert. P.K. Subban, armed with his new eight-year $72 million contract, and Andrei Markov should be the first pair.
There could be an opening for a young defenceman on the third pairing with veteran Mike Weaver, and for the seventh defenceman’s job. If they can show they’re better than 38-year-old Bouillon.
Another spot that may be up for grabs is on right wing, where Parenteau, Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise are the regulars.
Jiri Sekac, a much sought-after 22-year-old Czech who signed as a free agent, has a shot at a job, along with hot Swedish prospect Jacob de la Rose and 2014 first-rounder Nikita Scherbak.
The Canadiens are calling it a transition year in which they hope leadership shifts to younger stars like Price, Subban and goal-scoring leader Max Pacioretty.
They opted for four alternates rather than replace Gionta as captain, with Subban and Pacioretty sharing an A along with veterans Markov and Plekanec.
The team begins on-ice workouts Friday.