Czech Republic’s Tomas Plekanec (left) celebrates with teammates Petr Nedved (centre) and Marek Zidlicky ]after scoring against Sweden during their Euro Hockey Tour ice hockey match in Liberec, Czech Republic earlier this month.
David W. Cerny/Reuters
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Tomas Plekanec knows more than just a little about coming up through the Canadiens system.
So it’s with a learned eye and with more than just passing interest that he considers the case of current Habs prospect Alex Galchenyuk, a highly touted centreman who’s expected to make a big splash in Montreal when he finally arrives on what might be hockey’s grandest stage.
Plekanec was the Habs’ third-round pick (71st overall) in the 2001 entry draft, joining the organization’s Hamilton Bulldogs American league farm team in 2002-03 from his hometown organization in Kladno, Czech Republic.
Two full seasons with Hamilton, and a tantalizing two-game skate in the NHL in his second year, taught Plekanec a great many of the ins and outs of being a pro.
That taste of the Canadiens in 2003-04 was the promise of more to come the following year – until the plug was pulled on an entire NHL season with a lockout, the first of Plekanec’s two big-league work stoppages.
“I don’t know about full time but definitely I was told there’d be way more,” he said of an expected promotion from the AHL in 2004-05. “That’s what I got from management back then. (The lockout) was unfortunate for me and for everyone and obviously, I wasn’t only player who was cost a season in the NHL. I was sure I’d play half, maybe more of the season with the Canadiens but that’s the way it was.”
Plekanec played 80 games for the Bulldogs in the lockout year, scoring 29 goals and adding 35 assists.
“It would be kind of key for my career that I played in Hamilton that year because the AHL was such a good league,” he said in reflection.
Plekanec graduated to the Canadiens in 2005-06, where he’s been ever since.
Galchenyuk, of course, is following a different path to the Canadiens. As the NHL’s third overall draft selection last June, he had been on everyone’s radar as he starred for the Chicago Young Americans of the Midwest Elite Hockey League, then put up an 83-point season in 2010-11 with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario major-junior league.
The 18-year-old – he’s @AGally94 on Twitter – has 14 goals and 23 assists in 23 games with the Sting this season, rebounding from the fallow 2011-12 season that saw him sidelined for all but two games after suffering a horrific knee injury in a pre-season game.
Signed in July by the Canadiens to a three-year entry-level contract, Galchenyuk certainly will be brought along in good time by the Habs. The NHL club surely is in no rush to throw him into the deep end of Montreal’s turbulent hockey waters, no matter how badly fans are clamoring to see him.
From his hometown of Kladno during the current lockout, Plekanec has a few thoughts about this phenom and his future:
“I was in a different situation,” he said by way of comparison. “I was a third-round pick, not a high prospect, and nobody really believed in me at first. (Galchenyuk) is a high pick, obviously a talented kid that everybody sees playing first-line centre or forward for the next 15 years in Montreal. For him, it’s a different situation than it was for me back in the day.
“What I’d advise him is to stay on his course of his work. To work hard every day. I know it’s a cliché but that’s the way it is, with Montreal especially.
“Don’t listen to all the hype. Everybody’s going to tell him he’s a great guy, a great player, that he’s going to be great. If I were him, I wouldn’t listen to those things too much.”
To Plekanec, I quote an old hockey saying: “A player is never as good as the media say he is, and he’s never as bad as the media say he is.”
Plekanec laughed and replied, “That’s it exactly.
“(Galchenyuk) should just be focused on his game, his work ethic, his practices. What will really make him a good player in the NHL is not his talent right now, but his work ethic and attention to details that will come into play in the NHL. That’s the biggest thing for him.”
Plekanec will at some point get a first-hand look at the youngster, but not from where the Habs veteran is working now. He’s having a fine season with the Czech Extraliga’s HC Kladno Knights, third in league scoring playing on a line with fellow NHLers Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Tlusty.
The 30-year-old expects that the quality hockey he’s playing now will translate to an advantage for jumping back to the NHL, assuming that happens this season.
“I’m in game shape now and it will be much easier for guys doing this than those not playing and just working out and skating, playing charity games,” he said. “It could be really hard for them. But it depends. It’s a very individual thing.
Will it take them 10 or 20 games to get into game shape? Maybe more? Less? It will be huge for those who are able to play now, and maybe very hard for (other) guys to get into game shape right away.”
And then Plekanec considers the other side of the coin.
“But on the other hand, if it’s going to be a long (NHL) season, maybe the guys who aren’t playing now will have an advantage in the end. They’ll be fresher, able to play until almost July, while the guys playing now might get back to the NHL already having 30 games behind them.
“So, maybe they won’t be as an energized in the end.”
None of this, of course, has any bearing on the golden prospect Alex Galchenyuk. He’ll be watching from the junior ranks, an NHL lockout of his own possibly waiting sometime into his professional career if this sport continues on its often self-destructive path.
Canadiens prospect Alex Galchenyuk (left), established veteran Tomas Plekanec.