Looks like Alex Galchenyuk could be back this season after all. The Sarnia Sting center, a projected top-10 (at least) pick in June's draft, hurt his knee in a September preseason game and had his ACL surgically repaired a month later, a procedure many expected would keep Galchenyuk out all year.
But the Russian-American, who turned 18 last month, has spent the last couple of weeks skating with his teammates and could be cleared for contact soon.
"It was my goal from the start to hopefully come back this season," Galchenyuk told the blog in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "Some players have come back [from ACL surgery] in four months, so I knew there was a chance."
But the road back was anything but easy, and Galchenyuk admittedly wasn't always upbeat about his luck.
"Obviously I was really upset" when the injury happened, he says. "Early on, watching games was the toughest part. You're on crutches, you're still three months away from skating and you know you can't help your team. Rehab is a slow, tough process."
So it helped that his father, Alex Sr., knew what he was going through. The elder Galchenyuk, an assistant coach with Sarnia, suffered two ACL injuries during a pro career that lasted nearly 20 years, and he helped his son with both the physical and mental sides of his recovery.
His mother gave him some good advice, too.
"Obviously it's a big injury, but I wasn't thinking it was the end of the world," Galchenyuk said. "It wasn't long after the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team died [in a Sept. 7 plane crash], and my mom reminded me not to be upset, that I was still alive and could come back and have fun and still play. So my mindset was that it wasn't a big deal."
Galchenyuk's potential return would be a huge deal to the Sting. The OHL club has been beset by injuries this season. In games against the Windsor Spitfires and Guelph Storm last weekend, eight players -- including four of the team's top six defensemen -- were on the shelf with various ailments.
"[The injury bug] started with Alex and it's gone on all season," says assistant GM Mark Glavin. The list has even included Nail Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 draft pick who missed most of January after hurting his knee playing for Russia at the World Junior Championship. Still, Glavin insists that there is no pressure on Galchenyuk to return.
"Obviously he's got a very bright future," Glavin said. "We had confidence within our organization, just because of the type of kid he is and how driven he is, that he was going to do everything he could to be back on the ice as soon as possible. That said, the team would never put him in a position where he's not ready. If he's playing, it's because he's been given complete clearance to do so."
It's clear that day isn't far off. Galchenyuk traveled with the club to Sault Ste. Marie for Wednesday night's game against the Soo Greyhounds, his first road trip with the team this season.
On Thursday, he headed to London, Ontario, for a check-up with renowned orthopedic surgeon Robert Giffin, the doctor who performed his operation. But Galchenyuk isn't putting any pressure on himself to return.
"I don't feel rushed," he said. "I want to be back for the playoffs, but only when I'm 100 percent and I feel ready.
"But I'm feeling good."