His time south of the border might not have panned out the way he wanted but Halkett insists Hearts are now benefitting from the experience he has garnered along the way after hailing the player’s ability to influence games.
McKay has shone since returning to Scotland with Hearts last September, so much so that before his first season at Tynecastle was even over the club tied him down on an improved three-year deal.
He will no doubt be a marked man in today’s Edinburgh derby at city rivals Hibs, but Halkett insists the 27-year-old is more than capable of shaking off any unwanted attention
“Technically, Barrie is right up there with the very best I’ve played with,” said Halkett. “He can do stuff with the football other players can’t do. His technique is right up there with the very best.
“For a forward player, they’re judged on their decision making and end product. Barrie’s a player who gets his decision right more often than not. That’s why he’s been so good for us.
“Last season, it was spoken about that he maybe didn’t score enough goals. But he’s started this season flying and scored on the opening day against Ross County.
“It’s the other things he does for the team as well. He creates, gets assists, he moves opposition defenders into places they don’t want to be. He brings so much to the team.”
McKay ended up making only 38 league starts for Forest and Swansea after departing Rangers, but Halkett believes Hearts are now seeing the best of McKay, as evidenced by a brilliant solo goal in the 2-1 victory over the Staggies last weekend.
He added: “Barrie is six or seven months older than me and played in the year above at Rangers. But I played in a few games with him when I was younger.
“I trained with him a lot so I’ve known him for quite a while. He was really good at Rangers when he broke into the first team. But he’s gone away and played down south for a few years. He’s learned a lot there.
“Since he came back, I’ve noticed a big difference in him. He’s just more experienced, you can see he’s learned the game down there.”
Edinburgh derbies are notorious for being bruising, high-octane affairs. But Halkett insists players like McKay can effortlessly bring composure to such games amid the mayhem.
“In the derby matches the first 20 minutes are always frantic, it's end to end,” he noted. “We've got Barrie and a few others as well – Liam Boyce, Lawrence Shankland – who can slow the game down and make sure we keep control of the ball.”