There might not be a single prospect in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft that has as much intrigue or mystery as Alex Galchenyuk. The Milwaukee-born, Russia-raised Galchenyuk missed all but two regular-season and six playoff games with a knee injury. Despite the injury, he remains a top-five projection on most boards and likely won’t last much past that on Day 1 in Pittsburgh.
The injury certainly is cause for concern due to the fact that scouts didn’t get a real long look at him this year. However Galchenyuk was a dynamic rookie in the Ontario Hockey League for the Sarnia Sting in the 2010-11 season, putting up 83 points in 68 games. That kind of production as a 16-year-old brought him a lot of hype coming into the season.
His skill and his size are all in line with what you’d expect from a first rounder but his injury and, for some reason, his nationality have raised questions about what his draft stock really should be. Coming up after the jump, a look at the questions about Galchenyuk’s citizenship, his skill and potential impact for USA Hockey.
Whenever a player is injured, you expect the questions and concerns. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus wrote about how Galchenyuk might be the riskiest pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Pronman is on the money. Drafting Galchenyuk on what he did as a 16-year-old is not always the best way to make a projection. There have been plenty of players that had breakout seasons at 16, only to falter at 17.
Where I also agree with Pronman is that Galchenyuk is the type of player that is worth the risk. He has the skill, he has the size and he appears to have a ridiculous amount of upside thanks to both. In a weaker draft crop, guys with his skill set are at a premium.
Teams may remain weary of selecting Galchenyuk because of the injury, but stories started cropping up about the inherent risk in drafting players of Russian descent. There is always concern about the KHL and whether these players will report. Then there is the somewhat xenophobic narrative that Russians are lazy and selfish. Sure, some are, but so are some Canadians and some Americans, too.
While Galchenyuk was raised in Russia, he was born in the U.S. while his father, Alexander, played for the Milwaukee Admirals in the old International Hockey League. For the next several years, the Galchenyuk family moved around as Alex Sr. bounced around professional leagues in the U.S. and Europe.
Having been born in Milwaukee, Galchenyuk is an American citizen. As American as Abe Lincoln, if you will. After Alex Sr., who was born in Minsk, Belarus retired, the family settled in Russia until 2009, when they moved back for the younger Galchenyuk to play AAA hockey in the U.S. Young Alex possessed a Russian passport and was considered a dual citizen.
Somewhat comically, Galchenyuk’s midget team is called the Chicago Young Americans. He played well enough for CYA for Sarnia to make him the first overall pick in the OHL Priority Draft in 2010.
Now that he is of an age where he can represent countries in IIHF competition, Galchenyuk has been saying since last year he would choose to represent the United States.
The 1994-born centerman did play for Team USA at the 2011 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Under-18 Tournament last August, but that event was not IIHF sanctioned and therefore not subject to the same eligibility requirements.
It seemed as though there would be no issue with Galchenyuk’s representation of the U.S. in IIHF-sanctioned events, but that was only until this past April.
Just prior to the 2012 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship, Stefan Matteau, another top prospect for the NHL Draft, was ruled ineligible by the IIHF to play for Team USA at the tournament. This despite the fact that Matteau, like Galchenyuk, was born in the U.S., while his father Stephane was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. Matteau lived in the U.S. for the majority of his life, but spent ages 11 through 15 in Canada. He had also spent the previous two hockey seasons at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The IIHF ruled that despite his two seasons in Ann Arbor, he did not live in the U.S. for the previous two years consecutively. Two years as in 24 straight months. It was a strict and unprecedented ruling, as players in similar situations had no eligibility issues whatsoever. To be quite frank, the ruling was woefully unfair to the player.
Galchenyuk likely would have been asked to replace Matteau had there been no eligibility concerns, but if the IIHF was going to rule Matteau ineligible, why wouldn’t they do the same to the Russian American?
Flash forward back to recent weeks and I’m told per a source that the IIHF has reversed its ruling on Matteau and has declared him eligible to represent the United States in future World Championship competition. The next event he’d be eligible for is the World Junior Championship, for which he’d obviously be a strong candidate for inclusion.
This is good news for Galchenyuk, too, who is in a bit of a different situation. Having spent the last two years in neither of the countries he holds citizenship, but rather the OHL in Canada it is unclear how that would work out in terms of eligibility rules.
Just for good measure however, Galchenyuk has stated that he has given up his Russian passport. As he told Terry Koshan of QMI Agency:
“I just have my American passport now, and it was my decision all the way. My dad said to make the decision that makes me comfortable. I felt comfortable about USA Hockey and how they treat the players. I consider myself an American.”
Another source with knowledge of the eligibility rules has informed me that they’d expect there to be no issue with Galchenyuk’s eligibility. Without the Russian passport, he may no longer be considered a dual citizen in the eyes of the IIHF. Though the fuzzy ruling on Matteau obviously leaves some room for concern.
This is the important line for Galchenyuk: “I consider myself an American.”
I am of the mind that players, like Matteau and Galchenyuk, that legally hold dual citizenship in their respective countries, should have the choice of who they represent. The IIHF’s ruling cost Matteau a valuable experience and a gold medal with Team USA at the Worlds. It would be a shame for them to rob Galchenyuk of an opportunity to represent the country of his birth and also his choice.
After moving back to the U.S. to play midget hockey and spending the last two years in the OHL, I’d consider the risk of Galchenyuk going to the KHL to be at about zero. A kid wouldn’t travel thousands of miles from his most familiar home at age 14 just to go back to Russia at 18. The amount of work Galchenyuk put in to recover from his serious injury and the way he performed at the combine should also wash away concerns about laziness, which would have been unfounded anyway.
The only risk involved in selecting him is injury related and as already established, it’s a risk worth taking.
Regardless of anything else, Galchenyuk is a truly special talent.
Galchenyuk could be a key player for the U.S. going forward in international competition as well. As long as he doesn’t make the jump right to the NHL after his draft, and there’s reason to believe he will have to spend at least one more year in the OHL, he’d instantly be the top forward candidate for the 2013 U.S. National Junior Team.
Not to mention, having a player like him down the line for World Championships and, without putting too much pressure on an 18-year-old, potentially the Olympics at some point, could be huge for USA Hockey.
The fact of the matter is, there isn’t an American player like him. Creativity isn’t a common trait among American-born hockey players, for whatever reason. Galchenyuk has loads of it. The skill level, the natural offensive ability and instincts he possesses and the fact that he still has room to grow and develop is jaw dropping.
There is going to be a team that finds the risk worth taking, and that team is likely to be within the first five picks.
As soon as his name is called, Alex Galchenyuk will instantly become one of the most intriguining American prospects to watch in some time.