The word potential can sometimes be worn like a scarlet letter. It implies that there is still something left to be desired with no timeline when said desire will appear.
For years now, Matt Beleskey has been the "potential" guy. Burgeoning and developing but never quite having that breakout season.
That is until this season, when the type of player Beleskey is fast becoming is starting to become clear. His game-winning goal in the Duck’s 4-3 win over St. Louis isn’t one that a player with potential scores; it’s a goal that someone who has reached it scores.
"It was just one of those chances you get in there," Beleskey said of his third-period gem. "(Martin Brodeur) had stopped me a few times early in the game, luckily I got that one through."
It developed when Sami Vatanen picked off Barrett Jackman in the neutral zone and sent the puck down to Beleskey, just below the blue line. He used his speed to elude Jackman and used his quick trigger to elude Brodeur in the net. It was a vicious snipe, one of many that we’ve seen from his this season, as Beleskey has a career-high and team-high 16 goals on the season.
The 26-year-old winger has blossomed into a second-line power forward and it’s a role he always imagined that he might play, but it took a few years and a lot of different role playing to find that identity.
"I had always hoped. I finished my last year of juniors with 40 goals, so know I can score goals," he said. "I feel like you get the right opportunity and the right situation, you just work hard and hopefully you keep going."
But he also finished his last year of junior hockey with 106 penalty minutes. A number he hasn’t come anywhere close to matching in the pros and it was the lowest total of his junior career. Once upon a time, Beleskey was a fighter. You don’t see that anymore, but that’s not the role that he’s grown into or the player he’s become.
"He came up as a fourth-line guy, played eight minutes, seven minutes a game. So sometimes you just didn’t feel comfortable taking that extra-risky shot chance," said Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau. "That’s what he came up with and it’s still part of his DNA as a rough-and-tumble left winger. And that’s what we want him to continue as a power forward but he’s now progressed quite a bit."
Consistently playing on a line with Ryan Kesler has helped. Friday night, he was reunited with Kyle Palmieri and that chemistry was obvious as well. Through the early part of the season, Beleskey was rotated through all four lines as injuries and illnesses hit the lineup. It wasn’t the easiest role for Beleskey to play but he knew how to play it.
"You want to kind of always build some chemistry with the guys that you’re playing with, kind of find your spot or your so-called role on the team but if it’s going to be the versatile guy then I’ll be that as well," he said back in October. "That’s something that I’ve got to embrace and go play the same game every night and try to be the same player."
But when you keep scoring goals at a torrid pace, your role and your trust in your own game tend to increase. He’s now the same player every night, and he’s about to replace the potential title with the 20-goal scorer title.
"He’s always had a tremendous shot and a tremendous release, but he’s never had confidence in it," Boudreau said. "Scoring a lot in the beginning of the season has given him enough confidence in his shot that he thinks now he can score when he shoots, which is really, really important."