Galchenyuk ready to move from wing to centre, Bergevin says

The Montreal Canadiens are about to see if Alex Galchenyuk has what it takes to be a full-time NHL centre.

'Centre is a hard position to learn and there's a lot of responsibility,' GM Marc Bergevin says

Alex Galchenyuk set career highs with 20 goals, 26 assists and 46 points last year. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Montreal Canadiens are about to see if Alex Galchenyuk has what it takes to be a full-time NHL centre.

General manager Marc Bergevin made the surprise announcement Thursday that the 21-year-old, drafted third overall in 2012, will move from left wing to centre on one of the team's top two lines.

"Centre is a hard position to learn and there's a lot of responsibility, offensively and defensively," Bergevin said at the club's annual charity golf tournament. "There are signs our staff looks for and we felt that he wasn't ready at the time.

"Now we feel that he is getting really close and it's time for him and us to know if he can fill that role."

If it works, Galchenyuk's soft hands and playmaking ability can boost a team that is solid on defence and in goal with Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, but is only average on attack.

Bergevin said he and coach Michel Therrien met with Galchenyuk in June to tell him to get mentally and physically ready to play centre when training camp opens Sept. 17.

"We'll give him all the tools necessary to succeed at that position," said Bergevin.

'Take it to the next level'

Galchenyuk has been brought along slowly since he broke into the NHL with nine goals and 27 points in 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He had 13 goals and 31 points in 65 games the following campaign and improved to 20 goals and 46 points in 80 games last season.

"We're at a time in his career when we've got to take it to the next level and this is what I shared with Alex," said Therrien. "He embraced the challenge."

Galchenyuk played 12 games at centre last season between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, posting four goals and nine points, but then moved back to left wing.

This time, he may have newly acquired Alex Semin on right wing.

The Canadiens have David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller and Torrey Mitchell at centre and one of them will have to move. When Galchenyuk was at centre last season, Desharnais played left wing.

Galchenyuk is eager to get started.

"It's huge, especially for a young player like me to come in knowing your role, knowing your position, and just to be confident in yourself," he said. "But at the end of the day, I'm still going to have to prove that I'm good for the job and that I can help the team win."

While some fans have clamoured for Galchenyuk at centre, the move was still unexpected. After the Canadiens were eliminated from the second round of playoffs in May, Bergevin warned that Galchenyuk "may never be a centre."

Management's minds must have changed a month later, during the time that Galchenyuk was dropping agent Igor Larionov in favour of Pat Brisson and inking a US$5.6-million, two-year contract extension.

Habs to name new captain

The Canadiens also announced they will name a captain by the end of training camp. The club did not have a captain last season, preferring to use four alternates.

The pre-camp golf tournament is the unofficial start of the Canadiens' season. It's a chance for management and players to get together ahead of the new campaign, including newcomers Semin and Zack Kassian.

Pacioretty made his first appearance since fracturing a leg during off-season training. He will likely have to work out on his own at the start of training camp but hopes to at least be close to ready for the season opener Oct. 7 at Toronto.

"I don't know exactly how far along I am but I know that strength and mobility-wise, I feel very good," he said. "Now it just depends on the bone healing."