Stefan Matteau was selected 29th overall in 2012 by the New Jersey Devils. As the son of 1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup Champion Stephane Matteau, he has the pedigree. Standing in at 6-foot-2-inches and 220-pounds, he has the size.
Matteau entered his third season in the professional ranks, and had difficulty rounding his game into what the Devils had expected of their former first round pick. He had seen only sporadic NHL action that season, having played 20 games and generating one goal and going minus nine. It was at that point that he was sent down to AHL Albany.
Meanwhile at that time in Montreal, Devante Smith-Pelly who was acquired for Jiri Sekac, was put onto the market and the cost for the Devils to acquire him was a young budding power-forward. The Devils chose to move Matteau, allowing him to have a fresh start in a new organization, the Montreal Canadiens.
Once Matteau arrived in Montreal, the hope was that he would be able to step into the role Smith-Pelley had filled. Yet in his 12 NHL games, he was simply unable to remain consistent enough to keep that position.
Matteau entered his fourth professional season, and the last of his current contract, with a clean slate. He went into training camp fit, and skating well. That was insufficient for him to crack the Canadiens lineup. However, being sent to the St. John’s IceCaps was exactly what he needed to allow him to refine his game. He needed to play heavy minutes in an environment that would allow him to make errors.
Matteau’s production this season is behind both his 2013-14 and 2014-15 AHL seasons. Of concern is that he has already reached 100 penalty minutes in just 45 games. His development must go past mere production, and his downfall has been his consistency and discipline. He has been able to be an impactful player for stretches, yet can become invisible in others.
I had the opportunity to watch Matteau in a two-game series in St. John’s as the IceCaps took on the Syracuse Crunch on February 18th and 19th. Admittedly these two games are a very small sample of his season, yet in my estimation, Matteau found a way to make in impact in each game. In the two-game series, Matteau scored one goal, had six shots, had a plus-2 ranking but took an ill-timed undisciplined penalty that stifled a comeback on Sunday.
Matteau became engaged physically early in the first game, and maintained that pace over the course of the series. This helped to create the space needed for his line-mates. In my opinion, the IceCaps second line with Matteau, Jacob De La Rose and Max Friberg was the very dangerous in both games.
Matteau used his strong skating as a weapon including to generate four breakaways. Although he didn’t score, they helped the IceCaps build their momentum when they needed a spark. He also used this asset to close with the puck carrier pressuring the Crunch into making errors that led to rushed dump-ins and turnovers.
His responsible defensive play was rewarded with time on the power-play and penalty-killing units from coach Sylvain Lefebvre.
In the Syracuse series, Matteau demonstrated his full value when he is focused on his game and provided a consistent effort. A full season in the AHL refining his mental game will go a long way towards developing his confidence.
With the trade deadline approaching, he is not likely to be used in any package deals, however other IceCaps players will likely be made available, and Matteau could be called upon to play a larger role with the team as the Canadiens AHL affiliate push for their first playoff berth in six seasons.
Having watched him just twice, it is beyond the scope of this article to predict how Matteau could contribute to an NHL team in the future. But he is a strong skating, big-bodied, forward with a good, yet underused, shot. And if his effort level can be maintained consistently at a high level, this winger could play a complementary role.
Another full summer of training, and the increased confidence he gains playing his style for an entire season will benefit Matteau as he enters his fifth professional training camp. He will have serious competition for a bottom six roster spot in Montreal, but adding consistency to his toolbox of skills would provide him a possible opportunity.
Edited by Donna Sim