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Alex Galchenyuk hopes to play center for Arizona Coyotes

Montreal Canadiens' Alex Galchenyuk (27) celebrates with teammates Max Pacioretty (67) and Brendan Gallagher (11) after scoring against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Alex Galchenyuk was on a flight to Italy for vacation when he logged onto the plane’s WiFi and checked Twitter. That’s how he discovered he had been traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Arizona Coyotes late Friday for forward Max Domi.

“It was a lot of emotions. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my life before,” Galchenyuk said on a conference call Saturday afternoon. “I never really asked for a trade. I loved being in Montreal. I loved playing there, but obviously when you’re hearing your name in rumors for the last couple of years, you kind of knew that something might happen.”

The trade was the immediate eye-catcher, but as Galchenyuk read the comments from Coyotes general manager John Chayka, he smiled.

Nothing is set in stone and Chayka made it crystal clear that coach Rick Tocchet will sort out the lineup, but the Coyotes were attracted to Galchenyuk in great part because they believe he can fill a top-six center position.

“The second I went on social media and read the comments about me playing center, that’s what I want and I’m excited about it. I’m preparing already for it and I can’t wait to get started,” Galchenyuk said. “You’re more involved in the game and I feel you touch the puck, you have the puck on your stick way more than a winger. I feel really comfortable when I have the puck on my stick. I really believe in my offensive abilities when I have the puck. I feel like when you’re playing center you have more ice.”

Galchenyuk said he approached Canadiens Claude Julien late last season about returning to center, but nothing came of it. He added that it was not his job to worry about that. He had to produce whether he was at wing or center.

“We did some research and a lot of players are drafted as centers and when they turn pro they’re not centers,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said at a press conference on Saturday. “Center is one of the hardest positions to play and a lot of guys don’t want to do the work or don’t understand the work or it’s just too hard for him. It’s not a knock. It’s just a reality of our business. I don’t think it was a failure. I could name a bunch of players who were drafted as centermen and they don’t become centers or it takes a lot longer to become a centerman. He has played center. For periods of time he has done well, but overall we saw him as a better winger.”

Chayka was cognizant of that opinion when he watched film of Galchenyuk and weighed the trade, but he also saw great potential at center.

“I think everyone forms their own opinion and analysis,” Chayka said. “They used him exclusively [at wing] this year. In the past they’ve used him at center to varying degrees of success. It’s a hard position to play but I guess our thesis on it is he has the ability. We think he has some natural tendencies that lend itself to that position. We feel that just based off our research and what we have looked at, that he has the capacity to do it.

“He’s a naturally, talented guy. He’s got all the attributes to play the position. He’s big, strong, skates well, makes good plays. Offensively, he’s clearly better playing out of the middle of the ice. It’s just the details of playing center and commitment to playing it 82 games. For a lot of young centers it’s an issue and we feel he’s in that group but we’re betting on a change of scenery, getting him to Arizona with Rick Tocchet.”

The knock on Galchenyuk has been his attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck. He acknowledged Saturday that he needs to work on that area and he is excited to do so with Tocchet. Chayka said he approached Tocchet about that perceived deficiency and Tocchet was on board with the trade.

“He wanted a challenge and he wasn’t afraid of this,” Chayka said.

Tocchet said it is too early to say whether Galchenyuk will play center or wing. The Coyotes have multiple options at the position with Derek Stepan, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Marcus Kruger and Nick Cousins also under contract, but in Galchenyuk’s play, Tocchet he sees versatility, speed, skating ability, a great shot and more.

“I’m a big fan of skill guys that bring a power game with them,” Tocchet said. “He can take pucks out of the corner and get to the net. Guys can set him up for one-timers. In my system, playing down low, he has to win battles and I think he can.

“Like any player when you try to explain your system it’s about reps and trying to understand why we do it this way. Everybody has to play a part. We don’t expect him to be a Selke Award winner but you have to be good in certain areas in the D-zone. It’s really no different from our team last year. At the beginning, we weren’t so good and then we started to get better and take pride in it.”

As Galchenyuk comes in, Domi exits after three seasons of varying success.

He had 18 goals and 52 points his rookie season of 2015-16 after the Coyotes selected him with the No. 12 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. He had the same point-per-game pace his second season, but a broken hand sustained in a fight cut that season to 59 games, nine goals and 38 points.

Last season was a down year. Domi scored nine goals (four empty-netters) with an abnormally low shooting percentage (6.0). He also finished second on the team in turnovers with 62, a source of consternation for Tocchet’s staff.

Domi’s departure leaves Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the lone Coyotes draft pick from 2013 or earlier that is with the NHL club.

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” Domi said. “I was dead serious when I said I love Arizona and I never wanted to leave. It’s a great place to live, it’s a great place to play and the family community within the locker room and the staff is second to none.

“I’m really excited for all of them and what they’ve got going on there with the young core and Alex is going to be great for that team. I wish them nothing but the best.”

Domi had three goals and 18 assists through the first four months of the season, but he had six goals and 18 assists over the final two months, plus one week in April. He had four goals and 18 points in his final 20 games and his 36 assists were a career high. While much of the narrative surrounding this trade suggested both players needed a change of scenery, neither Domi insisted he never wanted that.

“Everyone’s got their own opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but like I said, I enjoyed my time there and started to figure it out by the end,” he said before turning the page. “When you’re going to a team like the Montreal Canadiens with as much history as we have there and the players that have been a part of that organization, you can’t not be excited. It’s a new chapter and I can’t wait to get started with the Habs. Hopefully, both of us can succeed in our new homes.”


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