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On Thursday, I had a chance to take in the Sarnia Sting-Barrie Colts game featuring Montreal’s 1st round pick Alex Galchenyuk.  It was the first time I’ve been able to see him play in person and given his recent production heading into this one (17 points in his previous 8 games), my expectations were quite high.  Although his team was on the wrong side of a 5-3 loss, Galchenyuk had a decent game overall.

Before the game even started, I really noticed his attention to detail when it comes to passing and his stickhandling.  In the final ten minutes of the warmup, he shot the puck a whopping one time (right near the end when there was no goalie), the rest of the time was spent working on either passing in line rushes or going to his own little section of the ice, focusing on quick cuts, dangling, and puck security.  Those elements were put to the test time and time again in the game as the Colts’ game plan was to limit the amount of time and space he had to work with in the offensive zone.

One concern that came about from his work with the puck is that too often he’d try to make the fancy play.  Sometimes it would work (such as flipping the puck up and over the opponents’ stick to make a pass) but it also led to several turnovers.  This is not something that is uncommon in junior hockey as the top players (and he certainly stood out as a top player) often try to go above and beyond but making the safe and simple play is something that I’m sure coaches at the professional level will want to work with him on.  When the fancy plays worked though, it turned lots of heads in the crowd.

Galchenyuk’s skating is an area that has been discussed a lot.  In terms of speed, he was quicker than I expected, especially going up against a Barrie team that has a lot of speed on their top lines.  His acceleration isn’t textbook, so to speak, but when he had the puck one-on-one, he regularly was quicker than his check.  I was also happy to see that he would regularly hustle back to the defensive zone when Barrie had control of the puck, something that could not be said for a couple of players on either side.

As we all know, his passing is a huge part of his game and this is where he really shone on Thursday.  Although he was covered early and often by the Colts’ defencemen, he made the right passes and kept the play going. Galchenyuk’s first assist was in the Barrie zone when he fed a pass back to the point to Connor Murphy who sniped one home to get the Sting on the board. Although that sounds nice, his passing in transition is even better.  This game was all about transition (seriously, you might have been able to count the number of quality checks between the teams on two hands) and the Habs’ top prospect really sparked that for Sarnia.  The passes were tape-to-tape and came quickly, catching the Barrie defencemen flat-footed on a few occasions. His second helper came in transition when he perfectly fired a near blueline-to-blueline feed to start a mini 2-on-1, leading to Reid Boucher’s second of the night, tying the game early in the 3rd.  Much to my delight, the Colts capitalized on a late turnover to secure the win.

Quick Notes

– Galchenyuk finished with a pair of assists and a +1 rating on the night.
– Official TOI and shot stats aren’t publicly available but if I had to guess, I’d peg him for around 20 minutes of ice time and a handful of shots on goal.
– His shifts were quite lengthy, often going over 90 seconds.  That’s something that seemed to be the case for all of the lines on either side though.
– Although Galchenyuk was in the starting lineup at centre, he spent most of the game playing on the wing alongside Boucher and Charles Sarault.  His line was frequently being matched with Barrie’s top trio of Anthony Camara, Mark Scheifele, and Zach Hall.
– If I was giving him a letter grade on the game, I’d give him a B-.  He didn’t play poorly but he could have been better as well; it was a decent performance overall.

Thoughts on non-Hab prospects

Andreas Athanasiou (DET, 110th in 2012): In terms of his skill, it’s easy to see why he was rated as a potential top-40 prospect heading into last year.  His skill with the puck and his effort in the offensive zone is something to behold.  However, it’s also easy to see why he dropped to 110th overall.  His form of defence is more often than not hanging around outside the blueline when the puck is in his own end, something that won’t be tolerated in the pros.  If Detroit’s coaching staff can get him to hustle in all three zones, they will have a steal on their hands but as it stands, he is a longshot to be an NHL’er.

Alex Fotinos (draft eligible in 2012): He was rated as a ‘B’ goalie by Central Scouting before the season and it’s understandable why he’s on their radar.  He really impressed me with his quickness in the crease and almost always was square to the shooter.  His rebound control is a little suspect but that should improve.  He is in line to be Barrie’s starter beyond this year and would be worth a look in the middle rounds in the draft.

Connor Murphy (PHX, 20th in 2011): When he was drafted in the 1st round, I was a little surprised.  Having seen him now, I’m no longer perplexed by the selection.  He was far and away the best defenceman on either side in this one, is very reliable in his own end, and plays well in the offensive zone.  I wouldn’t call him a future top pairing player but he will be a solid NHL’er in the near future.

Charles Sarault (overager, NHL free agent): He was going to be invited to the Habs’ rookie camp had there been one so he was a player I was keeping an eye on.  Although he has some chemistry with Galchenyuk, I don’t see him having the skills to succeed at the professional level.  He is a high quality junior player but his pro debut will likely start in the ECHL. He’s worth a flyer on a minor league deal (I’ll say that about a lot of CHL overagers though) but I wouldn’t give him an NHL entry-level pact.

Mark Scheifele (WPG, 7th in 2011): Being a Barrie fan, I’ve had a chance to see Scheifele a few times, Thursday night was his best all-around effort even though he only had one point.  He fell a few times in the neutral zone but that was the lone blemish on an otherwise strong performance. His defensive game has improved significantly and he clearly is too good for the OHL level.  If the lockout ends, he should once again begin the NHL season in Winnipeg.

Did You Know?

A pair of Barrie Colts have connections to former Habs.  18 year old centre Dylan Corson is Shayne Corson’s son while 16 year old winger Brendan Lemieux (who played in his just his 3rd game after signing with Barrie last week) is the son of longtime NHL’er Claude Lemieux.  Both skated on the 4th line.