When the Washington Capitals signed Jeff Halpern to a modest one-year deal on July 1, he was considered a good fit as the fourth-line center to replace Boyd Gordon. Maybe he could even fill in on the third line if that was needed.
But Halpern, a second-liner? That’s the world everyone’s living in right now, and nothing about Halpern’s play has done anything to show Dale Hunter didn’t make the right choice by promoting the 35-year-old.
“It’s a reward system,” Hunter said. “Play well and you get rewarded for it. That’s the way it should be.”
Halpern was obviously playing well enough in coaches’ eyes to get the promotion to the second line alongside left wing Troy Brouwer and center Marcus Johansson starting with the Dec. 7 game at the Ottawa Senators.
He had a goal and an assist that night and a total of four points in his past five games. And while no one would argue that Halpern has more talent than the likes of Alexander Semin, he has fit well in this new role.
“He keeps it simple, he works hard, he goes to the net,” Brouwer said. “He does a lot of the things that a big power forward does, but he’s not a very big guy.”
Halpern is just 6 feet tall and also isn’t the fleetest of foot. But Johansson praised him for always being in the right spot and able to help his linemates.
With so much talk this season of being hard to play against, Halpern fits that bill.
“He skates a lot and he works hard and he gets pucks back.,” Johansson said “He’s always there bothering the opponents.”
Chemistry on lines is not always easy to develop, but the second-line trio has had it so far. And perhaps some of Halpern’s success has come from not trying to do too much when thrown onto the ice with Brouwer and Johansson.
“I think the way JoJo skates in the middle of the ice, he kind of controls the whole play. He makes it easy for his wingers because he’s able to take it from one end of the ice to the other without any of us having to do any work,” Halpern said. “And Brouw, he’s a hard-nosed player who has the ability to make plays. For anyone playing with them, it’s just reading off them and trying to complement them.”