First Line LW: Matteau’s Last Shot To Stick?

Corey Griffin

I noticed last night that Stefan Matteau got a fair amount of time on the left wing of the Devils’ top line, particularly later in the game after Pete DeBoer seemed to tire of Mattias Tedenby. And so I began to think about the fact that three games into the 2013 season, the Devils have yet to find someone to replace Zach Parise’s physical position. So while I watched Matteau skate on the top life, I realized that he was at least the fifth different player the Devils had tried there through three games.

Dainius Zubrus began the year in that spot and played most of the first two games there. Although his size and two-way are pluses, Zubrus is hurt by  an inability to finish, which is particularly noticeable when guys like Kovy and Zajac are creating such great chances. Then, DeBoer decided to give Mattias Tedenby a shot there to start last night’s game, but after less a period, it seemed that experiment had been abandoned. Over the rest of the night, DeBoer tried Ryan Carter there for a stretch; Jacob Josefson got a turn; but Matteau was the one that really stood out as bringing a really interesting skill set to that line.

Then, today, I saw this from practice:

So that got me wondering — is “replacing Zach Parise” (in position only) as the left wing on the Devils’ first line Matteau’s last chance to stick at the NHL level this season?

It’s a fair question, I think. Matteau brings size, solid speed, good hands and a very good shot. He’s also very defensively responsible for an 18-year old and has proven capable, in stretches, of playing 15 minutes a night at the NHL level. Is that enough? No. Parise averaged over 21 minutes last year, a career high — and that’s what makes him so difficult to replace. But can you replace him by a committee of sorts with Matteau as the lead member of said committee? I’m … intrigued.

I’m on record as saying I don’t think he sticks, but this doesn’t strike me as a move to get the kid experience with top players. This looks like a coach searching for the best pairing on his top line and he just so happens to be doing it in advance of a “homecoming” for Matteau. As Tom Gulitti points out, although Matteau is an American-born player (Yeah, that’s right Canada — we stole another one.), considers Montreal his hometown.

What if Matteau provides a spark? What if he buries a chance that Zubrus would have shot into the chest of Habs goalie Carey Price? Does he stick for the whole game? These next two games, at Montreal and at Boston, are Matteau’s last two chances to prove he belongs before his NHL tryout runs out and the team must decide whether to send him back to juniors. With how desperate the Devils are for impact forwards and how desperate DeBoer seems to be to find someone to skate on his top line’s left wing, I can’t help but think this will be Matteau’s best chance to prove he belongs.

In the end, Lou might just say “Sorry, Pete. No way I’m burning a year of his ELC.” And that’s absolutely an option. I mean, think about who we’re talking about here. The Devils are $13 million under the cap at this point, yet they have spent almost no money on finding a forward to replace Petr Sykora or Parise. I wouldn’t put it past Lou to penny pinch on an 18-year old who’s probably not 100 percent ready for the NHL game — but doesn’t it intrigue you too? Isn’t it interesting to think about?

What do you think? Can Stefan Matteau hold his own as the first line’s left wing? Sound off in the comments!