by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Phew! Good thing that’s over.
Now that Lowell Devils rookie forward Matt Halischuk has a four-goal game out of his system, he can breathe a little easier.
Or, at least that’s how he prefers to look at the aftershocks of the offensive outburst he pumped out in the second AHL contest of his career, Oct. 11 vs. Worcester. It’s more productive to focus on the future, he thinks, than dwell on the past.
"It was one of those games where everything was going the right way. You are only as good as your last game. But it’s actually kind of relieving," Halischuk said. "You put the last game behind you. It’s easier to prepare that way if you have that mindset."
Fair enough, except for one small problem: many of the people around Halischuk expect that when it comes to big games, the hits will just keep on coming.
Take veteran linemate Pascal Rheaume, for instance. Rheaume compares Halischuk to New Jersey forward Zach Parise, with whom Rheaume played in Albany.
"The guy is always at the right spot at the right time," Rheaume said of Halischuk. "Everything he does on the ice is for a purpose. He always makes you look good. It feels like he’s been in the league a few years already."
Cue Lowell head coach Kurt Kleinendorst.
"The good news is he scored four goals the other night. The bad news is I don’t know how long I’m going to have him," the coach said of his prospect’s possible quick ascension. "He’s one of the guys who is very capable, if anything were to happen (in New Jersey), of making that jump."
Hmmm, looks like Halischuk’s the-next-game-is-what-counts philosophy is actually skating him toward, instead of away from, the cauldron of expectations. Then how might he react?
Well, we can’t say for sure, but his storybook snippet from last year’s World Juniors might be a hint. Halischuk shrugged off the pressure of his inhaling homeland to score the overtime game-winner in the title contest.
Halischuk said he watched a replay of his heroics a few times over the summer, but, naturally, he prefers to keep the past precisely there.
"The pressure helped me out a lot. It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. It’s just kind of a memory now," he said. "It’s nice to be known as part of that team."
Halischuk, 20, and the Devils are almost as perfect a fit as Team Canada and gold. The understated player seems snapped right out the organizational mold.
Lightly regarded just a couple years ago, he went unpicked in his first draft eligible year, 2006. So he jumped back into the fray and sizzled with 33 goals and 33 assists for Kitchener in 2006-07.
New Jersey snagged him in the fourth round of the 2007 Entry Draft, and he produced 13 goals and 46 assists for the Rangers last regular season en route to earning OHL first-team all-star honors. That was just a warm-up for the playoffs, where he contributed 16 goals and 16 assists in 20 games.
You can assume the last couple of seasons have been the products of prove-’em-wrong play.
"It was obviously a little disappointing," he said of the first draft snub. "It’s always in the back of your mind. You want to show people you can play. When it all comes down to it, it wasn’t the end of the world. I had to work harder."
Halischuk seldom labors without getting results. Conversations about him with Kleinendorst keep coming back to the concept of hockey IQ.
"He’s got it," the coach said. "He’s a smart player who complements his skill. From a weakness standpoint, I wouldn’t even know where to go. When you tell him something once, you don’t have to tell him something twice. He has a very nice feel for the game. There’s no rushing this kid. But I’m telling you, he’s a nice player. I think he’s a pretty good hockey player, but I don’t think he appreciates how good he is."
That’s evident by the way Halischuk struggles to explain his notion of game sense, simply finding it easier to just go out and play a heady game.
"You want to think the game. Once you get out there, it’s hockey instincts," he said. "You get help from other guys on the ice. You read off other guys on the ice. Jumping up different levels, you are always going to have some change. But I try to do the best I can."
Kleinendorst made the advanced AHL class work a little easier by skating Halischuk on a line with vets Rheaume and Jon DiSalvatore.
"’You always have more time than you think," Halischuk said of their advice. "It’s great to have players like that to give you little tricks."
Or even to play them on you. When asked if he’d get on Halischuk about his four-goal game, Rheaume didn’t break stride.
"We’re probably going to give him a hard time next game, tell him scoring four goals doesn’t make a season," Rheaume said.
So maybe it won’t be that easy for Halischuk to escape the shadow of his potential. Perhaps the best and only way to confront it is with more of the same.
"You just want to go out there and contribute something to the win," he said. "Whether it’s scoring goals or playing defense, you can look back at the end of the season and see how you did. You can’t get satisfied."