PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Montreal Canadiens didn’t land Nail Yakupov at the NHL draft Friday night, but they got the next best thing — his high-scoring linemate.
The Canadiens, drafting an uncharacteristic third, ignored Alex Galchenyuk’s recent injury problems and chose the 18-year-old centre only two picks after Yakupov, his teammate with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, who went No. 1 to Edmonton.
“We’re very happy for each other,” Galchenyuk said.
Only a year ago, there was some speculation that the son of former Belarus national team member Alexander Galchenyuk might be the No. 1 pick himself after piling up 31 goals and 52 assists in 68 games.
But he was limited by an ACL injury to two regular season games in 2011-12, although he had two goals and two assists in six playoff games.
His elite-level production pushed the six-foot, 198-pound Galchenyuk into the top-3, even if he didn’t have a recent body of work to validate such a high selection.
“I knew what kind of skill I have, what kind of player I am,” said Galchenyuk, who was ringed four-deep by reporters inside Consol Energy Center. “I’m just going to keep working hard. I played a couple of games at the end of the year and showed what I am capable of doing, I went to the combine and showed them my knee is no concern and there are going to be no issues.”
There’s no issue language, either. Galchenyuk already speaks English and Russian — he grew up in Wisconsin — but he also knows the necessity of being trilingual.
“Oh, yes, French lessons start in a couple of days,” Galchenyuk said.
He also doesn’t need any on the history of the Canadiens, quickly rattling off a list of the franchise’s stars and accomplishments, even if there hasn’t been a Stanley Cup to celebrate since 1993.
The pick was the first made by newly installed Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.
The pick is not without risk, given the knee injury, but it didn’t dissuade Bergevin from making it. Nor did the fact that Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov has dealt with his own knee issues for several years.
The Canadiens badly need forward depth — and size — as they lack scoring outside of the top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole.
Galchenyuk might not be that far removed from providing it.
No Canadiens player reached even the 70-point mark during a 31-win season that was ruined by the club’s 16 overtime losses.
Galchenyuk isn’t predicting when he’ll reach the NHL, but his obvious offensive skills and size allow him to be effective in the offensive zone.
“I’m going to keep working hard, see where it takes me,” he said.
He hopes it’s the Bell Centre, and not in the distant future.