Nov. 3, 2011; Glendale, AZ, USA; Nashville Predators right wing Matt Halischuk (24) celebrates after scoring on Phoenix Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera (1) during the second period at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Halischuk: Has he finally earned his spot?

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Last night Barry Trotz showed his displeasure with the effort given against the Kings on the previous Tuesday by scratching both Craig Smith and Colin Wilson in favor of the grittier Matt Halischuk and Brandon Yip. Halischuk had been the odd man out for the previous two games going back to the deadline. While he is a fan favorite for playing a game similar to a Joel Ward role, Halischuk was sat in favor of the flashy Craig Smith.

In the past month, Smith has only registered one goal, no assists, and posting a -3 rating. In his last two contests, Smith has seen his minutes diminish. While there’s nothing wrong with the rookie (first season in the NHL schedule and away from the NCAA) hitting his wall, Matt Halischuk could be a better fit right now for a team needing to fill out a tough bottom six.

The top six seems to be set, the question then goes to the bottom half of the forward lineup. Paul Gaustad (who seems to be fitting in just fine) and Nick Spaling look to be anchored in to their roles. With Gaustad being flanked by Gabriel Bourque, who does NOT play like a rookie and has been the pleasant surprise this year, and either Colin Wilson or Brandon Yip, Spaling would be best served with his old Kitchener Ranger buddy on his wing. The chemistry between Jordin Tootoo and Spaling was forged last year, and works still.

If you haven’t seen this footage, fast forward to 3:09

That Kitchener team was quite awesome. And hey look! Peter DeBoer!

Halischuk is not a top 6 forward. There’s nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t have to be. What he is though, is another tough guy to play against even without the puck. He takes the punishment needed to get into the tough places on the ice, wins individual battles, and plays good defense. That’s what a solid 3rd line player does. I like Craig Smith, and think he’s got a great future in front of him, but maybe now is not the time for him. Playing with Taylor Beck, Michael Latta and the future Preds.

(Colin Wilson on the third line could be lethal aside Gaustad and Tootoo or Yip. Just throwing that out there.)

In the NHL, you either need to be great and unstoppable, or very good and tough to play against in order to win in the playoffs. Last year, Vancouver was great and unstoppable, Boston was very good and tough to play against. San Jose was very good, but predictable. As was Anaheim.

All Halischuk has done was put the puck in the net by using effort and positioning, and done mostly on the 4th line with sparse minutes. I like Brian McGrattan too (a lot), but he’s not there for playmaking and offense. Having 12 goals 60 games into the year playing 11 minutes a night is a decent stat. Making plays like this last night doesn’t hurt his campaign for a spot on the roster either:

 

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Tags: Barry Trotz Brandon Yip Colin Wilson Craig Smith Matt Halischuk Nick Spaling

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