It’s no surprise the Devils have a dire need for offense going into the offseason. New Jersey finished in the bottom-five of scoring last year, where they especially struggled at even strength. With a relatively weak free agent crop to choose from come July 1st, one name that may gauge the interest of Ray Shero is unrestricted free agent Matt Beleskey. The 27-year old Windsor, Ontario native had a breakout season for the Anaheim Ducks, scoring 22 goals in 65 games, during which his playing time was comparable to the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry.
I took a look at some stats via Puckalytics database to get a more in-depth view at Beleskey’s 2014-15 NHL season.
The Devils goals for per 60 (GF/60) as a team, was a minuscule 1.75. Only Arizona and Buffalo posted worse numbers at even strength. Beleskey could offer a big increase in 5v5 scoring for the Devils. Of the 22 goals the winger scored this season, 18 of them came at even strength and his GF/60 while on the ice at 5v5, was a strong 3.28 (This accounts for any goal that was scored while Beleskey was on the ice and isn’t confined to Beleskey directly scoring a goal). The player with the best GF/60 for the Devils in 2014-15 was Steve Bernier (2.38). No disrespect to Bernier, but you would need a more skilled offensive player to have a bigger impact at even strength. The Devils won’t be successful if the best results they’re getting are from a player of Bernier’s caliber.
The majority of Beleskey’s ice time overlapped with Anaheim’s top 6 forwards being on the ice at the same time. The two forwards that were out on the ice with Beleskey the most were Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri. The trio put up nice numbers together. Their line had a 3.24 GF/60 at even strength while sporting a 53% Corsi. Good possession usually correlates with scoring more goals. In this case, it resulted with their line accounting for more goals for, than goals against while on the ice. It’s interesting to note that Kesler and Palmieri’s GF/60 decreased when not paired with Beleskey, and their possession numbers dipped below 50% as well.
Beleskey’s numbers, however, stayed fairly steady. One reason for that can be Beleskey’s ice time with Getzlaf and Perry. When Beleskey was with Getzlaf and Perry, they accounted for a 4.68 GF/60 while dominating possession. The trio was dominant at 5v5, which is to be expected when two thirds of your line are comprised of all-star talent but Beleskey surely held his own and was worthy of getting minutes with Getzlaf and Perry.
The bottom line with Matt Beleskey is that he contributed a great amount at 5v5. If he wasn’t scoring a goal directly, he was on the ice for a goal scored more often than a goal against. Beleskey would provide the Devils with a much needed lift in a very important area of the game that they substantially struggled with last season. If there is a reason to be concerned about Beleskey, it’s whether he can sustain scoring at the level he did this past season.
While Beleskey set career highs in shots (145), and shooting percentage (15.2%), he has never had a shooting percentage above 9% in a season where he produced 100+ shots. His shooting percentages in those seasons were only 8.9% and 8%; a far cry from the 15.2% he put up in 2014-15. It’s hard to maintain a shooting percentage that high over a regular period of time and you do need some puck luck to do so. However, it’s not impossible for Beleskey to match his totals from 2014-15 even if his shooting percentage dips. He’d have to generate more shots. If Beleskey generated 180 shots in a full 82 game season in 2015-16, but converted on 12.2% of his shots, he would still match his 22 goal total from this past season. Since Beleskey is a formidable possession player, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
It’s hard to say where Beleskey would fit into Ray Shero’s plans as of now. Beleskey would definitely help the Devils in a couple areas, but a lot of it will probably depend on who the Devils might be able to acquire via trade between the draft and when free agency opens. As much as I like Beleskey and think he’ll be able to continue posting good numbers next year, he is more of a complimentary piece and the Devils have enough of those at the moment. He needs to have a solid top 6 around him, and the Devils don’t have that right now. If the Devils are able to add a big name scorer or two before July 1st via trade, I can definitely see Shero making an offer to Beleskey. Until then, I think signing Beleskey will just have to be put on the back burner as the Devils look to strengthen their top-six forwards.