Matt Beleskey had a career season at the perfect time. He scored a career-high 22 goals last season and added eight more tallies during an impressive playoff run that ended with the Anaheim Ducks coming up one win short of the Stanley Cup Final.
The next step for the 27-year-old left winger was to test free agency for the first time, and he signed a five-year, $19 million contract with the Boston Bruins when the market opened last Wednesday.
Beleskey plays a hard, heavy game, which should help him make a smooth transition to a B’s team that utilizes a similar style. He won’t have to be something he isn’t in head coach Claude Julien’s lineup, wherever that may be.
“That’s up to the coach, really,” Beleskey said Tuesday at TD Garden. “I’m going to play my same game. Be a power forward, get in on the forecheck and go to the net hard. That’s what I’m going to do. And if he see me playing wherever, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll do what he needs me to do, and he’ll put me where he thinks I belong.”
A lot has been made of Beleskey possibly being a one-year wonder last season, and that his career-high shooting percentage of 15.2 is unsustainable. He’s probably not going to shoot 15.2 percent next season, but he should still score at a very similar rate next to Bruins center Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci.
Krejci has played with power forwards on his wing for most of his B’s career, and Beleskey would be a great fit alongside the Czech center.
“They’re great playmakers,” Beleskey said of Bergeron and Krejci. “We played against them and you watch the way they play, they work hard in both ends. That’s something I enjoy, having a guy who’s going to work hard at both ends of the ice.
“They can make great plays in the slot. Hopefully I can get open, get to the net and create a little space for them. Who knows if I’ll even play with them, I don’t know. It’s just going to be exciting to come to a new team, meet all the guys and get settled.”
Beleskey played with Ducks second-line center Ryan Kesler more than anyone else at even strength last season, a total of 469:47 to be exact. Krejci is a better playmaker than Kesler, and he’s assisted and generated scoring at a higher rate per 60 minutes than the Ducks center during 5-on-5 play since the start of the 2010-11 campaign.
Playing alongside Krejci or Bergeron, and also receiving time on the power-play — a unit that was inconsistent throughout 2014-15 — should help Beleskey score 20 or more goals for Boston next season. The X-factor in this is Krejci’s health. He missed 35 last year because of injuries, but from 2010-11 through 2013-14 he never missed more than seven games in a single season.
Another reason to be optimistic about Beleskey’s progress is his mentality. He didn’t just improve statistically last season, he became an impact player for one of the NHL’s best teams because he wanted to step into that role.
“I think I took some confidence strides in my game,” Beleskey said. “I knew it was time for me to be more than just a grinder that’s going to help out the team. I want to be a guy to be able to lead in situations and I think I took those steps.”
As a player likely to fill a top-six role and play a key part in a Bruins offense that must improve from last season when it ranked 22nd in goals scored, Beleskey should have plenty of chances to be a leader and a go-to guy in Black and Gold.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images