2012 Draft Class: Stefan Matteau
Son of ex-NHLer Stephane, Stefan Matteau ranks 17th among North American skaters
"Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stephane Matteau! And the Rangers have one more hill to climb, baby!" - Howie Rose, Rangers radio announcer.
Stefan was still in diapers, only 93 days old when his dad's goal in double overtime sent the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. 18 years later, he's seen the play and heard the call countless times since. And as if that wasn't enough, his dad's stories growing up in a household rich in NHL memories have helped paint a picture of greatness and longevity.
In 848 career games, Stephane recorded 144 goals and 316 points.
"I'm so fortunate to have him in my life," he said. "He's been there, done that with literally everything I want to do; he's won a Stanley Cup, he played 14 years and began his career at (age) 20 in the National Hockey League. Growing up he's been giving me tips and still is today."
Matteau, 18 and of Chicago, recently completed his U-18 season with the United States National Development Team, scoring 15 goals and 32 points in 46 games -- a steady improvement over last year's total. In 2009-10 before coming to Ann Arbor, Michigan, he represented the AAA Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan. Over the years, the program has churned out a number of great NHLers, including Rod Brind'Amour, Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph and Brad Richards.
In 65 games with the Hounds, he collected 26 goals and 71 points en route to the TELUS Cup national championship.
"On and off the ice, that's something I'll always remember," Matteau said of his experience at Notre Dame. "I was living with a couple guys where there was little separation, which was great because I was always with them. Winning was a huge bonus, but simply getting the chance to hang out and build relationships with the team was the best part. Out there there's not much to do in the middle of nowhere, so having the close ties with everyone made the experience that much better.
"I try to play a little bit like (Pittsburgh's) Jordan or (Carolina's) Eric Staal," explained Matteau, who certainly offers a similar physical edge -- although, sometimes a little too much of it, as expressed in his 166 minutes in penalties and multiple suspensions this past season. "I'm a big, power forward with a strong two-way ability. I have talent, a good shot with a good release, so I try to use all my tools to play a two-way game."
The 6'2", 210-pound forward has quietly honed that skill-set alongside US U-18 teammates Jacob Trouba, Patrick Sieloff and Nicolas Kerdiles. All have high-end potential at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
"The US Development Program is really great," Matteau said. "In our U-17 year, most of the work is done off the ice with weights and workouts, but we hold longer practices, too, because we're not expected to win as many games as the older guys. In the summer, we do our own programs and then come back as a U-18. There's a lot less off-the-ice stuff then; it's really based on hockey and on-ice development at that point."
Once the program is over, the players move on and do their own thing. Matteau had originally signed a letter of intent to go play for the University of North Dakota, but has since changed his mind and will make the jump to the QMJHL. The eldest Matteau, Stephane, was hired as an assistant coach with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in 2011-12.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Stefan said. "It's going to be great to have him close by so he can have that much more of an impact on my career as a coach.
"He's going to help, but it's totally up to me to become a better player. At this level, I think you can improve on everything, so I'm really going to focus on my explosiveness this summer; my agility in corners and in tight areas, too. I have NHL size which will help, so I want to complement it with quickness."
As mirrored in his 2011-12 stat line, it's an ongoing process that ultimately began last season with a more committed off-ice effort -- a charm of the US Development Team's unique and unparalleled, elite-level program.
"I had some really good summer training (last season)," he explained. "I came in with a mentality that I needed to take it more seriously. I knew what I had to do; I came in, worked as hard as I possibly could and it paid off. Once you have the confidence that you can do it, you can do anything. I got to play with some great players during the season, too, such as Miles Koules (ranked 201st among North American skaters). He can really put the puck in the net, so it was a good combination that helped us both succeed."
Some limited action (due to a late-season suspension) and a citizenship issue that prevented Matteau from playing at the IIHF U-18 World Championship contributed to a slight drop-off in his North American skater ranking, but that isn't of Matteau's concern. When NHL Central Scouting Services released its year-end list, he was slotted at No. 17.
"During the season, I didn't really like to look at it (the ranking)," he laughed. "I tried to stay focused on the present and play my game. Now that the season is over and we're getting closer, I still don't really like to look at it because it makes me nervous. But whatever happens, happens. I think I've put myself in a good spot, so no matter what and wherever I go, I'm going to be honoured to get picked.
"I'm planning on going to the 'Q' (QMJHL) next year, but it's my goal to show up at an NHL camp and make the best impression I can. Of course, I'd love to play in the National Hockey League next season."
With the grit, hard-nosed determination and pro bloodlines in tow, it's certainly possible.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow @ryandittrick