A pair of American-born 18-year-olds have made NHL opening-night rosters. One of them is winger Stefan Matteau, who found out Friday that he is part of the lineup for the New Jersey Devils coming out of camp. The other is Milwaukee-born forward Alex Galchenyuk, who will suit up for the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s pretty rare to see American prospects get the call up so quickly, so lockout help or not, this is a major accomplishment for both players.
Both are likely to get see a minimum of five games on the NHL roster before the team will have to decide whether to keep them or send them back to junior. Normally it would be 10 games, but in the lockout-shortened season, they’ll have to impress quickly. Anything played beyond the fifth game will activate the first year of that player’s entry-level contract. Should either be sent back to junior, their clock remains at three years on their entry-level deals.
Matteau’s inclusion on the Devils roster comes as a bit of a surprise given the fact that he was the last forward cut for the U.S. National Junior Team just a month ago. Soon, he’ll be pulling an NHL jersey over his head.
It’s just another crazy turn it what has been a wild, roller coaster of a calendar year for the Chicago-born Matteau.
Before getting to how crazy the year has been, Matteau’s inclusion on the Devils’ roster must be extra sweet. It also could be historic. Matteau was playing at the National Team Development Program last year. While this year is different due to the lockout, I can’t recall an NTDP player making an NHL team the year immediately following his under-18 season in Ann Arbor. Many have made the following year and some were not draft eligible during their U18 season (Patrick Kane, Cam Fowler, Phil Kessel, namely). So this is a pretty big deal for both Matteau and a program that has produced many American NHLers.
Of course Matteau just spent the first half of this season in the QMJHL, appearing in 35 games so far, which gives him a boost , but it doesn’t diminish just how impressive this is.
So let’s take a look at what the last year has looked like for the new New Jersey Devil.
Last January, Matteau decided to break his commitment to play college hockey at the University of North Dakota, deciding to play instead for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL where his father Stephane was an assistant coach. Due to the familial ties, it wasn’t much of a surprise, but that’s a huge decision for a player to make before his career really even gets off the ground.
Over the course of his draft-eligible season Matteau, who plays a very edgy brand of hockey, was suspended on multiple occasions by the United States Hockey League. He lost nearly 20 games of playing/evaluation time.
In April, he was declared ineligible to play for the United States at the World Under-18 Championship, due to a citizenship issue. Born and raised mostly in the U.S., Matteau and his family moved to his father’s native Quebec when the younger Matteau was 11. The IIHF felt he didn’t spend enough time in the U.S. based on a convoluted interpretation of its own rules. The organization later reversed its decision, but it was too late. Matteau had already missed out on winning gold with the U.S. at the U18s and also missed out on a huge draft-evaluation event.
He still managed to go in the first round to the Devils at 29th overall. Matteau’s being selected by the Devils is funny because, well, this happened the same year he was born…
Matteau has had a solid, if unspectacular season with the Blainville-Boisbriand scoring 18 goals and 28 points in his 35 games in the Q. As is the case with the way he plays (a brand that NHL scouts and execs tend to love), he has gotten into some trouble at times.
In October, the power forward was suspended one game by the QMJHL for a bad check from behind. Bad enough that his own team decided to suspend him an additional game.
Then in December, Matteau was named to the U.S. preliminary roster for the World Junior Championship. He looked as though he had made the team, but he received a 10-minute misconduct in the team’s final exhibition game. It is believed that combined with his sometimes too-edgy game was a significant factor in his being the final cut at forward. Matteau narrowly missed out on the World Juniors and as a result, another gold medal.
Fast forward one month, Matteau is invited to Devils camp and just two days after head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters the youngster “hasn’t looked out of place” in camp, Matteau is officially a New Jersey Devil.
To think all of those different speed bumps — some self-inflicted — came within the last calendar year, Matteau reaching the pinnacle of hockey at 18 is pretty incredible. He has NHL size and speed right now, but it takes more than physical attributes and skill to succeed at this level. He’ll have to prove quickly he’s ready for this immense jump, but he earned this opportunity on his own.
I’d imagine Matteau is likely to only be there for the five-game limit, but with the twists and turns he’s endured this season, nothing should come as a surprise anymore.