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Halischuk stays humble as stock rises

Tuesday, 08.19.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


Matt Halischuk scored the game-winning goal for Team Canada during overtime at the 2008 World Junior Championship, clinching Canada's fourth straight gold medal.
New Jersey Devils prospect Matt Halischuk tries to downplay his historic moment by pulling out the old just-happy-to-be-there jargon.

Come on, Matt, give us something to work with here.

Remember, you're the guy who scored the overtime winner at the World Junior Championship this year, the world's greatest stage for a teenaged hockey player, clinching Canada's fourth straight gold medal at the prestigious tournament.

"Not just scoring it, but to get a chance to make the team was pretty special," Halischuk told NHL.com. "It all kind of happened so fast. The next thing you knew we were wearing the gold medal."

That Halischuk doesn't want to go into the details of his historic goal is actually understandable. He's hoping it's only the beginning of a long career, one that would make the World Juniors-winner just a bullet point on his list of accomplishments.

While the jury is still out on the former Kitchener Rangers forward, the Devils think they may have something special with the kid they selected in the fourth round of the 2007 Entry Draft.

"He's just a good player," Devils coach Brent Sutter told NHL.com. "He can skate. He is a workaholic, just non-stop. The thing I like about him is he's got skill to go with that work ethic. He can make plays. He can shoot the puck."

Sutter left out probably the best thing about Halischuk.

He's a winner, bar none. You know the Devils like that.

Not only did Halischuk score the overtime winner for Canada in January, he was a top-line forward for the Rangers, who won the Ontario Hockey League championship five months later. He skated with fellow prospects Justin Azevedo (Los Angeles Kings) and Nick Spaling (Nashville Predators).

Halischuk, who assisted on the winning goal in Game 7 of the OHL Championship, scored 13 goals and dished out 46 assists while appearing in just 40 regular-season games last season due to a high ankle sprain. He was Kitchener's third leading scorer in the playoffs with 32 points in 20 playoff games.

"I think the whole year and experience he had gives him confidence," Devils chief scout David Conte said. "He was a first team OHL All-Star. He had a spectacular year, a spectacular playoff. I'm sure making (the World Junior) team was a boost and doing so well and scoring that goal certainly was a boost, but the body of his year is more impressive than a goal he scored even if it happens to be a hallmark goal for the Canadian junior program."

That Halischuk has had to basically beat the odds to get to where he is now only adds to the Devils' interest in him.

He was barely a blip on Hockey Canada's radar last summer, and needed a strong start to the OHL season to have a chance at making Canada's National Junior Team. He wound up being only one of five players to make the team despite not receiving an invite to play in the Canada-Russia Super Series last summer.

To give you an idea of the company Halischuk was in, this year's No. 1 draft pick Steven Stamkos and Florida Panthers top prospect Shawn Matthias were also among those five players.

The good thing was a lot of my buddies went through it (the year before) so it was easy to talk to them about the draft. Everybody was still pulling for me. - Matt Halischuk
If you go back even further, Halischuk went undrafted in 2006, the first year he was eligible. He was coming off a disappointing season for the St. Michael's Majors in which he registered only 31 points in 61 games.

"I knew that when the draft came up (I wouldn't be picked), so it wasn't really a big deal," Halischuk said. "When it happens, it motivates you more to have a great season the next year. I got traded during the summer to get a fresh start and it worked out."

In the first of his two seasons with Kitchener, Halischuk put together his best OHL season in 2006-07, complete with 33 goals and 33 assists in 67 games, prompting the Devils to take a chance on him in the fourth round with the 117th overall pick.

"The good thing was a lot of my buddies went through it (the year before) so it was easy to talk to them about the draft," Halischuk said. "Everybody was still pulling for me."

A year later, with a gold medal wrapped around his neck and an OHL championship on his arm, Halischuk is ready to beat the next set of odds stacked in his way.

"I'd like to make the jump to pro hockey," he said. "I'm working in the summer to do everything I can to make that happen."

He signed his first pro contract on July 1, has already been through the Devils Prospect Conditioning Camp, and in September will be taking part in his second training camp, although this time he'll be in Newark, N.J., with the goal of earning a paycheck for the 2008-09 season.

"It's kind of tough to try to project where you're going to go, but I need to come in and learn everything I can," Halischuk said. "You just have to work hard and things will work themselves out."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.



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