Beleskey close to full-time NHL role

By Tanya Lyon

If you’re looking for lessons on adaptability, look no further than Ducks forward Matt Beleskey. The left wing has been living out of a suitcase for most of this season as he’s bounced around from city to city. The Windsor, Ontario native began the season with the AHL San Antonio Rampage before he was recalled to the Ducks on Oct. 24. On Nov. 1, he was sent back to San Antonio, then reassigned to the Toronto Marlies on Nov. 17 as the Ducks sought to get their prospects more playing time. Then on Nov. 30, the 6′, 204-pound winger was recalled to Anaheim for the second time this season.

"It’s a little different. Not too often do you just switch teams without being traded," said Beleskey. "Luckily, Toronto is about 30 minutes away from my hometown so it’s kind of like home for me. Both teams had really good guys on them and they really accepted us — they helped us out a lot and hopefully they continue to do well. You’re living out of a suitcase so you’re kind of used to it."

But the Ducks forward has taken all the traveling in stride and sees every call-up as an opportunity to prove himself.

"Hopefully they like what I’m doing and they can keep me around for a bit," he said.

In his second stint with the Ducks, Beleskey has certainly looked like he’s making the most of his opportunities. Through six games, he’s averaged 10:28 minutes of ice time per game and has looked more confident and poised with the puck. A fact he attributes to a greater understanding of what his role on the team is.

"You know what they want you to do," said Beleskey, "and they want you to keep it simple, work hard and for me to create some energy, so knowing what you have to do out there makes your job a lot easier."

Injuries have begun to hit the Ducks and as a result, Beleskey has been asked to fill into an important role on the team’s third line – alongside veterans Petteri Nokelainen and Todd Marchant. The line, whose role is to bang bodies and create energy, has already begun to display some chemistry and in just their second game together put together a goal and Beleskey earned his first career NHL point.

"Definitely not nervous out there anymore," said Beleskey. "The guys make you feel like you’re part of the team and I’m getting used to playing with [Nokelainen] and Todd Marchant. We’re getting some chemistry out there so I’m definitely feeling pretty comfortable."

The two veterans have welcomed the 21-year-old, making the transition all the more easier for Beleskey.

"You come in, you’re playing with the same guys," said the 2006, fourth-round draft pick, "you know some of their tendencies and where they’re going to be. Those two guys have helped me a lot — they’ve talked to me a lot during practice and during games."

And according to Marchant, Beleskey is already beginning to show progress in just his short time up.

"The last couple of games, he’s beginning to play a little more confident with the puck and get in on the forecheck and use his legs," said Marchant. "Last night, fortunately for him, he was able to get his first NHL point. Hopefully, there will be more — as long as he keeps it simple and plays more of a north-south game he should be fine."

While Beleskey sees his call-up as a great opportunity, the Ducks coaching staff is also eager to see how the rookie adapts to his increased role.

"We brought him in and played him," said Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle, "and that’s critical for a young player to feel the confidence that he’s going to go out there every third shift or every fourth shift and get an opportunity to settle down in a game — [that] the game is not something he is chasing — it is something he is participating in. He’s doing things at the pace of the NHL and that’s most important for him to maintain it. We don’t want to see any fall-off and that will be critical for him."

The Ducks believe that Beleskey is close to becoming a full-time NHLer, but will use this as an opportunity to continue to evaluate where he is in his development.

"I think with any young player that is trying to work himself into regular duty in the NHL there’s a curve that takes place," said Carlyle. "Where he is on the curve…we think he’s not at the beginning of it that’s for sure. We think with a young player with his capabilities, his attitude towards playing the game he should be able to continue to show some development and make some contributions as he goes forward."

But the difference between catching the coach’s eye and making a mistake can be very slim in the NHL and, Beleskey is being cautious not to do too much but to simply play his game.

"When the coach shows some confidence in you and pays you some compliments, it settles you down a bit – it lets you know you’re doing something right," said Beleskey. "I’m just going to keep trying to hit out there and create some offense if we can and keep working hard and get some energy when you’re out there."

And despite the Ducks 10-13-4 record, the team has begun to come together going 4-2-1 in their recent seven-game homestand. A fact Beleskey points to as proof that the team is still a playoff contender.

"I think it’s just a matter of time," said Beleskey, "especially when you look at the guys who are on this team, ’til we start winning. There has been a lot of movement, a lot of guys getting injured so not everyone has got the chance to gel right now but as soon as we get together, we’re a playoff team. It’s only a matter of time. Once we get healthy, we’ll be a difficult team to play against like we always are."

Sexton makes his NHL debut

Right wing Dan Sexton made his NHL debut on Friday, Dec. 4 against the Minnesota Wild as Teemu Selanne was placed on injured reserve with a fractured left hand. The 5’10, 170-pound Sexton filled in on the second line alongside veteran center Saku Koivu and winger Bobby Ryan.

"He’s an easy player to play with," said Ryan, who played with Sexton during the pre-season as well. "He goes in and gets the puck. He’s little but he holds onto it well and protects it like a big guy down there."

Since the Ducks do not have their own dedicated AHL affiliate this season, the Apple Valley, Minnesota native began the season in ECHL Bakersfield before he being reassigned to Manitoba (AHL). The speedy winger says starting the season in Bakersfield was good for him.

"Going to the ECHL was not what I wanted to do," said Sexton, "but once I got there, it turned out to be great. I got my confidence up there, got to play with some good players and just start out my pro career scoring a lot of points. It made the adjustment to the AHL easier and the adjustment to [Anaheim] that much easier. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise to start out in the East Coast league. If I were to have started out in the AHL and gotten buried and didn’t get much going in my first five or 10 games, it would have been tough confidence wise, but to be able to start out in a league and be successful and then being bumped up a league and being successful there and come up here – it was honestly great. I was really lucky at the time even though I didn’t know it."

According to Sexton, the biggest adjustment to the NHL was getting used to the speed of the puck.

"Guys pass it before they need to," said Sexton. "Guys can see plays happening. In other leagues, guys will wait til they have a guy on them before they move the puck but here guys move the puck before they need to. You think you have a guy covered and then all of the sudden the puck is off his stick and off to another guy. The speed of the game, skating wise is maybe a hair faster but the puck speed and the smartness on the ice is the much bigger jump."

Notes: Despite reports to the contrary, Anaheim has not formally severed their association with San Antonio. Ducks GM Bob Murray said "We still have a great relationship with San Antonio but it’s tough to share a team with someone in your conference." As a result, the team has opted to move most of their prospects who were playing with San Antonio to Toronto in an effort to get them increased playing time, but goaltender Justin Pogge remains in San Antonio; Defenseman Brendan Mikkelson was reassigned to the Toronto Marlies, at least temporarily, in an effort to help him regain his game and his confidence. According to Carlyle: "We felt he has struggled in the games as of late. He has a tremendous skill set but right now we feel like things have been going against him more than they’re going for him so it’s an opportunity for him to go down, get his confidence back and get his feet back underneath him from a standpoint of executing with the puck, playing strong defense because he has the NHL skills – you can see it on the ice, he can skate, he can move the puck effectively when he’s on top of his game. We felt in the last two weeks that his game has faltered to the point where it would be better suited for him to play some games in the AHL."; Brett Festerling was recalled to the Ducks for the first time this season. "Festerling has been a solid defenseman both in San Antonio and in Toronto," Carlyle said. "They were using him as their shut-down guy in San Antonio and they’re very happy with his progress in the Toronto organization… the positive reports have come back that Festerling has been very, very strong."; With the recent acquisition of Kyle Chipchura, center MacGregor Sharp has been reassigned to Bakersfield (ECHL). Sharp had been playing on the fourth line alongside George Parros and Mike Brown.