Countdown to Bruins camp: Matt Beleskey
From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Matt Beleskey.
One of the few players that fully delivered on what was promised last season, Matt Beleskey had a very good introductory season in Black and Gold. The rough-and-tumble winger was a natural fit with a Bruins group looking for physicality, and counts as one of Don Sweeney’s best moves in his two years as Bruins GM by signing Beleskey to a modest free agent deal little more than a year ago. One would hope and expect that Beleskey has a larger group of B’s peers that join him in either meeting, or surpassing, expectations this coming season with the playoffs standing as the ultimate motivational point.
What Happened Last Year:
Beleskey launched into his first season with the Bruins like a cannonball, and turned heads with his thunderous, punishing body checks and with enough offense as he moved between the top and third line all season. The 15 goals were the second-most of his NHL career, and the 37 points were a career-high for Beleskey after toiling as a bottom-six forward during his time in Anaheim. There were a handful of games, like a November win over the Rangers, when Beleskey’s booming hits changed the course of momentum last season, and there was a consistency in effort and intensity that was remarkable in his 80 games played. In fact, Beleskey was notable in being one of the few players that consistently showed up even in the embarrassing blowout losses that dotted last year’s schedule. For example, Beleskey was arguably Boston’s best player in their rough Winter Classic loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium, and in a blowout loss to the LA Kings when Milan Lucic returned to Boston for the first time. Beleskey brought it last season, and earned the respect of Bruins fans everywhere in the process.
Questions To Be Answered This Season:
The question now is how much better Beleskey can get offensively at 28 years old after putting up 15 goals and 37 points last season in 80 games. These were close to career-high numbers across the board for Beleskey as he bounced between the top three forward lines, and without him ever getting a chance last season to show how he elevates his game in postseason play. Can Beleskey once again get to the 20-goal plateau as he did two years ago in a walk year with the Anaheim Ducks? He has the good shot and release, works hard to get to the front of the net and puts himself in position to do offensive damage, so those are all good signs. But Beleskey also doesn’t consistently have the hands and creativity you look for in a top-6 winger, so it may be that he ends up a third line forward posting numbers similar to last year. That’s perfectly fine if it ends up being the long term future for Beleskey in Boston. The only other question is whether Beleskey can continue to violently throw his body around 80 games per season at 6-foot, 203-pounds, and expect to remain healthy.
In Their Words:
“Part of getting [Beleskey] was that he had some grit to his game. We know he had 22 goals last year and, it was the most productive season that he’s had. But we needed a guy like that. When I look at his execution in the slot area and his shots, it’s just a matter of time before things started going in for him. But when you lose a guy like Milan Lucic, you’ve got to replace him some way or another. It’s not easy to replace Lucic, but this guy here gives us some grit. He’s a guy that has a lot of guts, doesn’t back down, is physical and finishes his checks. He plays hard.” –Claude Julien, talking about Beleskey last year in the middle of his first season with the Bruins.
The Bruins and Beleskey were an excellent marriage in Year One, and Beleskey even showed a little snarl in certain situations last season when the Bruins were lacking in that kind of “take no crap” attitude. He posted very good offensive numbers in the context of his career, and looks to be a player that could settle into a really impactful third line role if the Bruins can figure things out with their top six forwards. A few more goals and a few more points from the left winger would be ideal, but the B’s will ultimately, gladly take four more seasons just like last year for the duration of his contract with the Black and Gold. Beleskey proved to be a True Bruin in his debut season for the B’s, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue for the foreseeable future.