Is the clock about to strike midnight for New Jersey Devils rookie forward Stefan Matteau?
While the 18-year-old wing hopes not, there's no question he's learned plenty in his professional audition.
The Devils will ultimately have to decide on Matteau following his fifth game of the season, which should come Tuesday at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins. If he plays in six or more games, it would count as a full season off his entry-level deal, moving him one year closer to free agency.
Like father, like son?
Pressure is something Stefan Matteau has had to deal with since the day he first laced on a pair of skates.
As the son of former New York Rangers forward Stephane Matteau, who broke the hearts of New Jersey Devils fans in the second overtime of Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, it's easy to understand why.
One thing's for sure, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound wing has certainly enjoyed his time with the Devils this season. It has given the rookie an opportunity to learn and play with and against the best the NHL has to offer.
Matteau was just three months old when his father wrapped home the historic goal against Martin Brodeur at Madison Square Garden. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello made certain that the younger Matteau wouldn't be duplicating that effort down the road when he drafted Stefan with the No. 29 pick of the NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh last June.
Matteau became the first Devils player chosen 29th or higher in 13 years to play on opening night in the season following the draft. Forward Andreas Salomonsson, selected in the fifth round (No. 163) in 2001, earned a spot with the team in the season opener of 2001-02.
Matteau is the first to admit that he doesn't play the same style as his father once did.
"Growing up, I did get to watch him … he was a hard-working, physical guy who played with an edge," Stefan said. "It's weird to say this because he played 15 years, but I think I'm more offensive than he was. Dad told me I'm bigger and more skilled … that's what he said."
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound wing had 15 goals, including four power-play goals, and 32 points in 46 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program in the USHL last season. He also accumulated 166 penalty minutes.
-- Mike G. Morreale
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello could opt to return him to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and allow him to further mature, grow and gain valuable ice time within the Canadian Hockey League.
While Lamoriello remains unsure whether or not Matteau will stick just yet, he did reassign forward Mattias Tedenby to Albany in the American Hockey League on Monday.
Through four games with the Devils, Matteau has played admirably. He's averaged 8:21 of ice time, hasn't looked out of place, and did earn some time on the team's top line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday when he played 12 shifts totaling 9:32 of ice time. He was given just two shifts -- none beyond the midway point -- in the third period against the Canadiens.
For the season, he's taken six shots and owns a plus-1 rating for the Devils.
When Matteau earned a roster spot for New Jersey right out of training camp earlier this month, he became the first to perform in the NHL the season after starring in the United States Hockey League.
That's quite an accomplishment when you consider the caliber of talent drafted out of the USHL -- Justin Faulk (U.S. National Team Development Program), John Carlson (Indiana), Sam Gagner (Sioux City), Max Pacioretty (Sioux City), Kyle Okposo (Des Moines), T.J. Oshie (Sioux Falls), Paul Stastny (Omaha), Blake Wheeler (Green Bay), Thomas Vanek (Sioux Falls), Matt Carle (Omaha), Patrick Sharp (Thunder Bay) and Erik Cole (Des Moines) to name a few.
But Matteau isn't looking for a pat on the back just because he's earned a role with the club that selected him in the first round (No. 29) of the 2012 NHL Draft. The kid, whose stall inside Prudential Center sits between David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus, is mature beyond his years.
"I didn't have that maturity level at 18 years old, I can tell you that much," Devils forward Krystofer Barch said.
On top of that, Matteau brings a solid, all-round game. So in some ways, the decision to send Matteau back to the QMJHL should be a tough one.
"It's pretty amazing … a few weeks ago I'm playing in Halifax [Nova Scotia] in major juniors and now I'm here playing against NHL teams in front of sellout crowds," Matteau told NHL.com. "It's special, but I can't stay on that cloud. I have to work hard if I want to stay here."
Matteau is trying to make the most of his on- and off-ice experience with the Devils. He didn't receive a shift in the third period or overtime of a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday. It should also be noted that 2012 Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique, who has been sidelined with a thumb injury, is scheduled to return within 10 days.
So where does that leave Matteau, who turns 19 on Feb. 23?
"You're trying to find the best combinations that work and he's a guy that is intriguing because of some of the different things he can do," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's a big body, skates well and gets on the forecheck. He plays the way we want to play. He's young and still learning the system and defensively learning where to be and what to do. He's willing to learn."
In 35 games as a rookie with Blainville-Boisbriand this season, Matteau has 18 goals, 28 points, 70 penalty minutes and a plus-19 rating.
"He doesn't seem overwhelmed with all the stuff we're throwing at him," DeBoer said.
Matteau was one of the last players cut from the United States National Junior Team that would eventually garner a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, on Jan. 5.
"He has a good physical game, good hands and can see the ice well. He's got a lot of tools that would help any teammate playing with him." -- Jacob Josefson on Stefan Matteau
"It was obviously a disappointment [being cut], but out of my control," Matteau said. "I did think I had a pretty good camp. I wished them the best and they ended up winning gold, so I was happy for all of them. I've played with a lot of those guys the last few years, and they're all my good friends. I was happy for them."
Now he's earning the respect of his new teammates in New Jersey.
"I've been impressed," Clarkson told NHL.com. "I think he's shown everybody he can play in this League. Even when he was moved up to our [second line] against Philadelphia, he got some chances.
"It's good to see for the Devils organization when you have these young guys that can come up and fill a void like that."
Jacob Josefson, who centered Matteau on the fourth line in the opening three games, has also been impressed.
"I think he's playing really well; you can see he's a big talent and he has a big body and I really like to play with him on the same line," Josefson told NHL.com. "He has a good physical game, good hands and can see the ice well. He's got a lot of tools that would help any teammate playing with him."