What a year for Matt Beleskey.
The 22-year-old forward entered training camp a year ago as a near-lock for the minors. Today, in the Ducks’ preseason opener against the Phoenix Coyotes, he is slotted in as the Ducks’ top-line left wing – a role he can reasonably expect to reprise when the regular season begins, if Bobby Ryan’s switch to center becomes permanent.
“I liked the way my season finished last year,” Beleskey said. “I was feeling comfortable, starting to find my spot, my role here.”
Beleskey started last season in the American Hockey League – first San Antonio, then Toronto – before getting called up to Anaheim for good in late November after a three-game stint in October. With the Ducks, his role was essentially to punish opponents for paying too much attention to his higher-profile linemates.
He started as a third-line left wing, but by January had worked his way up to the top line alongside Getzlaf and Perry. Beleskey scored five goals that month, ranking tied for second among NHL rookies. Though his scoring cooled off a bit down the stretch, he finished with 11 goals – tied for 10th among all NHL rookies – and 18 points.
“I don’t know if they were clamping down on me, especially with Getz and Pears,” Beleskey said. “We’ll see what happens this year.”
On Friday, he signed a two-year contract extension worth $1.475 million. It’s a one-way deal, meaning Beleskey won’t be shuttling between the NHL and the minors again.
“It’s a good boost in confidence, having that security,” he said. “It takes a little pressure off, lets me know I’m going to be here the next three years. It’s time to get down to business, get comfortable, start playing my game.”
Known for his high-energy game and hard shot, Beleskey thinks he can surpass last season’s goal total in 2010-11. That shouldn’t be as hard if he stays on the top line all season.
“Hopefully it’ll be somewhere around 20 (goals) this year,” he said. “I’m always looking to improve. That would be a goal. It might be a little high, but you can always shoot for it.”