MONTREAL - Entering his fifth pro season, Stefan Matteau firmly believes the time has arrived to make his mark in the NHL.
Set to embark on his first training camp experience with the Canadiens, the 22-year-old forward is out to catch the collective eyes of team brass in the hopes of being a mainstay in the lineup in 2016-17.
Acquired from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline last February, Matteau made 12 appearances for Michel Therrien's troops down the stretch. Briefly getting a taste of sporting the CH on his chest only inspired him further heading into an extended summer break.
"Everything about this is something I want so badly. Now, I have the chance to get it. Why waste it? I'm here and I'm ready to go," said Matteau, who spent his offseason working out in Boisbriand at Centre Performe Plus with trainers Stephane Dube, Stefano Lanni and Philippe Dion. "The fact that I'm from here, it obviously drives me so much more. I'm going to do whatever it takes to stand out and get noticed. I'm a big guy, so I'll use my physicality and just play hard."
While Matteau says he made several adjustments over the past few months in the gym, including putting in plenty of extra time on upping his speed and endurance alike, he also made an effort to change his overall thought process when it comes to dealing with the day-to-day realities of trying to establish yourself at hockey's highest level.
"It's really just been about calming down and not worrying too much. I've matured a lot over the years, too. I'm focusing on the things I can control and not on the things I can't. The hardest part is knowing the difference between the two. I think I've kind of settled down like that," explained Matteau, who credits his parents - father and former NHLer, Stephane Matteau, and mother, Nathalie, with providing him with key pieces of advice and guidance in that regard since making the jump to the pros with New Jersey at 18 years of age.
"My dad's been through it all before. He's experienced everything I'm facing and will face along the way. I've always looked up to him. He's such a good person to talk to. My mother, too, especially, because she's been along for the whole ride. She's good when it comes to calming down at home and preparing yourself for the next day. She's seen it all," added Matteau, who considers himself fortunate to have such a solid support system to depend upon day in and day out.
Getting to this point has been a real learning process for Matteau. In nearly four seasons in the Devils organization before joining the Canadiens, the former 29th overall selection saw 44 total games of NHL action, and spent both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns with the AHL's Albany Devils. It certainly hasn't been an easy road, but Matteau insists he's better for it and all that experience should serve him well beginning on September 22nd at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
"I never really understood what my dad meant [when he spoke to me about playing in the NHL] until I became a professional - learning the ropes from the older guys and seeing how they carry themselves, learning from playing under [former Devils GM] Lou Lamoriello. The best are the best for a reason. If it was easy, everybody would do it," shared Matteau, who has three goals, six points and 27 penalty minutes over the course of his NHL career. "You're just a kid at 18. Looking back, it was kind of a blur. But, I'm at the point where I think I've learned enough where I can actually make a spot for myself and make a name for myself. Now is the time for me."
These days, Matteau is spending the bulk of him time working out and practicing with Canadiens regulars and young guns on the South Shore. In just nine days, though, he'll begin putting all of his offseason efforts to the test. Like the rest of his teammates, getting back in compete mode is something Matteau has been waiting for since the 2015-16 season came to a rather premature conclusion.
"Summer was nice, but it's over now. It was a long one. I'm really looking forward to what's coming up and getting back in the rhythm with the rest of the guys," concluded Matteau. "Like I've been saying every year since I was 16, it's the biggest year of my life again. I'm definitely not taking this training camp lightly and coming in full steam."