Alex Galchenyuk won't turn 20 for another five months, but the Montreal Canadiens forward admits that he has already thought about where he wants to celebrate his birthday.
"Of course, I'd really like to be in Sochi," Galchenyuk said this week from USA Hockey's Olympic orientation camp in northern Virginia. "That would be the best, that's obviously my first choice, but we'll see."
Galchenyuk was one of 48 invitees to the United States' orientation camp which concluded Tuesday at the Washington Capitals' training facility in Arlington, Va. Given his age — he is the youngest of the 24 forwards on the Americans' preliminary roster — he is also among the most intriguing.
Galchenyuk turns 20 on Feb. 12, the first day of the Men's Hockey tournament at the 2014 Sochi Games. The United States opens their tournament one day later against Slovakia and Galchenyuk is hopeful that he will be there.
"Obviously there are a lot of talented guys here, but I think that I'm a skilled guy, I can make plays and I think that's always a huge thing on the [larger international ice surface]," he said. "Also I'm versatile and can play either wing or centre so that shouldn't be an issue."
Impressive rookie season
Galchenyuk is coming off an impressive rookie campaign with the Canadiens, where he scored nine goals and added 18 assists while appearing in all 48 games. He also won a gold medal with the U.S. at the 2013 world junior championship in January and a bronze medal at the world championship in May.
"He's one of those X-factor kind-of-players," said Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stasny, who played alongside Galchenyuk at the world championship. "He's a special talent and I think that he's probably one of the more skilled guys here. I'm not sure if that's because of the Russian background or not but he's a good skater and just a natural goal scorer."
The son of Russian parents, Galchenyuk was born in Wisconsin while his father Alexander was playing minor league hockey in the U.S. Four years later, the senior Galchenyuk played for Belarus at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
"He told me that it was a great experience to play against the best players from around the world and that it's different from the world juniors or world championships," Galchenyuk said. "You see not just hockey players at the Olympics but all the athletes from all the sports so he's said that it was a unique experience."
Galchenyuk, who spent his childhood living in the U.S., Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Russia while his father played professionally, says that the decision to represent the U.S. internationally was ultimately his and he credits USA Hockey's national program in part for his development.
"I feel like the media and everyone made it a big deal, but for me when it came to Russia or the U.S., it was an easy decision," he said. "For me, I always wanted to play for the States and I guess I understand (the debate) because my family is Russian, but it wasn't a tough decision for me."
Now Galchenyuk says he hopes to make it difficult for U.S. general manager David Poile to leave him off the Americans' Olympic roster, which is expected to be announced Jan. 1.
The consensus around the U.S. orientation camp was that despite Galchenyuk still being a teenager — one of only three invited to the camp along with defencemen Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba — he has the maturity of a veteran.
"He's got tremendous poise as a 19-year-old and we saw it at the world championships when the [bronze medal] game was on the line and he scores twice in the shootout," said Stasny. "He's got nerves of steel and he's only going to grow as a player. For some guys playing in Montreal is a tough environment, especially at that age, but for him, he's shown that he's ready for it and I think you can expect great things from him."
Canadiens teammate Max Pacioretty also points to Galchenyuk's maturity as a potential strength heading into the Olympics.
"It's a short tournament in a different country, new teammates. a It's a lot of quick adjustments," Pacioretty said. "But he's shown that he can deal with adversity at a young age and that should help him. Whether it be recovering from [a torn ACL in 2012] or whether it be overcoming a mid-season slump and being able to break out of it, that adversity is probably going to make him stronger moving forward in the future. It's good to see that [USA Hockey] and the hockey world think so highly of him already."