It's not often that we see players immediately play in the National Hockey League after they were drafted. Usually, they're exceptional talents; those who are too good for the level of competition they were playing at and could hang with the next level. Stefan Matteau surprised many that he not only made the New Jersey Devils out of training camp in this shortened season, but that he appeared in 17 games. However, that would be it for the young winger. As Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice earlier today, Matteau has been returned to his junior team, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
I'm only surprised that he was returned now. It's not like Matteau performed particularly well in his 17 games. He averaged 9:31 per game. Even when he started a game with Ilya Kovalchuk or Travis Zajac, he often was placed on the bench as time went on. Peter DeBoer limited his usage beyond his minutes. According to Behind the Net, while he had a positive on-ice Corsi rate of 2.40, he also had a high offensive zone start percentage and his negative relative Corsi rate shows that play did not get better when he was on the ice. With all that, he only had 22 shots on net, scored one goal, earned two assists, took only three minor penalties, and looked lost when forced to defense. It's hard to criticize limiting an 18-year old player in his first season in the NHL, but it was necessary because of he wasn't performing much like an NHL player.
That in of itself shouldn't be a surprise. He wasn't a top player in the QMJHL during the lockout. He wasn't one of Blainville-Boisbriand's top players in their 2012-13 season; his 18 goals and 10 assists in 35 games did not place him top five on his own team in scoring. He didn't make the U.S. World Junior Championship team, guaranteeing his exclusion with getting thrown out of a preliminary game. It's not that Matteau was totally bad, but he wasn't doing anything to suggest he was ready for the next level. His first few games showed that as well. Again, great that he got involved but he wasn't playing like an average NHL player. And that continued after that sixth game that made his contract count for this season, even though there were flashes of better play. At least he was rather disciplined given how much of PIM machine he was against his age group.
With Matteau now back in juniors, he can participate in the QMJHL playoffs with a Blainville-Boisbriand team that won their division. Well, fine, but I was initially confused why this move was made now. In this extended look, the Devils burnt the first year of his entry level contract. The cap hit isn't much per CapGeek, but making him become a free agent earlier annoys me a bit. I'm also not sure how much Matteau really improved as a player. I'd like to think that he did and the coaches who worked with him are in a better spot than I to detail what aspects he got better at. Gulitti noted that he can return to New Jersey or even Albany after the QMJHL playoffs are over. I wonder if that's the reason for this move? Presuming the Devils couldn't send him directly down to Albany, this will allow him to get more playing time at a lower level for a few weeks before he can go to the A. That's actually quite clever if that's the case. I think Matteau would benefit more in Albany than getting about twelve to fifteen shifts in a NHL game. It also helps the Devils with another roster spot available for a forward who can perform more consistently and for a little more than Matteau. It shouldn't be that hard to replace; when Andrei Loktionov or even Dainius Zubrus comes back, the forwards will be stronger. Harri Pesonen, I suspect, will be the fill-in until the latter happens. But, again, couldn't have this been done sooner - such as when Tom Kostopoulos was acquired? The team could have called up a replacement then as well.
Nevertheless, I'm not surprised he went back to juniors, just that it happened now. Perhaps the Devils were more optimistic in his development than I was; that they figured he was on a path of improvement early that just didn't turn out as expected. I'm hesitant to say whether it was a total failure because this has been his first ever experience in pro hockey. It's hard to say he didn't meet expectations because what did I honestly expect from someone who wasn't crushing it in the Q or even made their nation's WJC team? I don't think Matteau was mismanaged in that his play didn't really demand any more ice time than he got. I do think he should've been sent down sooner, preferably before that sixth NHL game that made his contract count for the season. So it goes.
In any case, what do you make of today's news? Will we see Matteau back in New Jersey later this season? What effect do you think this will have on his development? What did you think of Matteau's play in the 17 games he did play in New Jersey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Matteau and today's transaction in the comments. Thank you for reading.