Halischuk making strong case for NHL role

With less than a week left in the preseason, Jets fans probably wouldn’t have thought Matt Halischuk would be among the team’s leading scorers.

Halischuk, 26, is in his second season with the Jets, but his roster spot was less than a sure thing. On a two-way deal that would allow him to be demoted if the Jets so chose, it doesn’t look like he has reason to worry.

With the primary assist — and a beautiful assist, at that — on Nikolaj Ehlers game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, Halischuk pushed his preseason point total to four in just three games.

How most fans likely remember Halischuk is for his role in Canada’s gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in 2008. After a nearly disastrous icing brought the puck back into Canada’s end, Halischuk helped clear the zone, get the puck back, and slid it past the Swedish netminder for the gold.

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It was a spectacular moment for Halischuk, surely, but now he’s looking to finally find some steady success in the NHL.

Drafted by New Jersey and, just three seasons later, traded to the Nashville Predators in exchance for Jason Arnott, Halischuk is one of the few players who has come to the Jets via free agency. A 2013 Winnipeg Sun story at the time of Halischuk’s signing made it clear that the winger was concerned his time in the league may be up before the Jets came calling.

Thankfully, it wasn’t, and it seems to be paying off right now for Halischuk. His aforementioned two-way deal which was signed this past off-season certainly doesn’t make him a lock to make the squad, but he’s shown so far that he belongs.

In 203 career NHL games so far, Halischuk has tallied 30 goals and 34 assists, much of his time being played in a shutdown role on the third- or fourth-lines of defensive-minded Predators’ teams. While he has never been a prolific scorer at any level – his best junior season saw him pot 33 goals and 66 points in 67 games with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers – he’s a sound skater who has some puck skill and isn’t afraid to dig the puck out of a corner. That’s not going to get him on many highlight reels, but there’s no doubt it’s one way that he’ll find his name on the score sheet more often.

Halischuk’s best season to date saw him score 15 goals and add 13 helpers in 73 games with the Predators in 2011-12. There’s very little reason, if given the opportunity and playing with the right linemates, that Halischuk couldn’t match or surpass those totals this year with the Jets.

His career highlight, at least when it comes to the NHL, may be his overtime goal he scored in the 2011 playoffs to lift the Preds to a double-OT victory over the Vancouver Canucks. For those who remember the game, the shot was beautiful, and showed a flash of what Halischuk can bring.

It never hurts to add some scoring to the bottom lines. Ask any coach or analyst how you win games, and you’ll often hear that you need all four lines contributing. With players like Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn already manning the bottom two lines as what we’ll call “energy” players, Halischuk could be that now-and-then point-getter that carries the Jets’ to a couple more wins throughout the course of the year.

It could be a stroke of good fortune that Halischuk thought there was nowhere else for him. He could be just what the Jets’ bottom-six needed.