ShareThis Page
Junior players caught in NHL crunch |

Junior players caught in NHL crunch

The Associated Press
| Wednesday, January 30, 2013 8:28 p.m
NHLI via Getty Images
The Devils decided to keep first-round pick Stefan Matteau rather than send him to juniors. (Getty Images)
Getty Images
MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 19: Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the warm up period prior to facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in their NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 19, 2013 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 2-1. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Getty Images
The Flyers returned prospect Scott Laughton to the juniors before letting his entry-level contract kick in. (Getty Images)

Stefan Matteau is still with the New Jersey Devils. He may even be with them the rest of the week.

But, then, you might not see him the rest of the season.

Matteau was one of dozens of NHL teenagers caught up in a quirky rule that allowed teams to play their junior-age players for five games before making a decision to return them to their junior club or keep them on the roster and have this season count as the first one of their three-year, entry-level deal.

Some players, like Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton, were returned to their junior team after playing five games.

Others, like Matteau, still have undecided fates. Just because Matteau, New Jersey’s No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, has yet been sent back, doesn’t mean he will necessarily play for the Devils the rest of the way. New Jersey will play the Islanders on Thursday night and Matteau could be there — only watching from the press box in a suit and not in uniform.

“He has played extremely well in the time he has been given,” Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He’s an 18-year-old, and there are a lot of things to consider before we make a decision.”

The Penguins did not invite any of their junior prospects to their six-day training camp.

Junior standouts like Olli Maatta (London/Ontario Hockey League), Scott Harrington (London/OHL) and Derrick Pouliot (Portland/Western Hockey League) remained with their teams, the Penguins preferring they gain more experience before reaching the NHL.

Lamoriello insisted Matteau’s contract would not be an issue. Matteau can remain on the roster; he just can’t play or the contract kicks in now that he’s completed five games, the last of which was a 2-1 loss in Boston on Tuesday. He played just 8:56 of gametime vs. the Bruins.

Here’s why that’s important: Should Matteau, or any player with a similar status, play a sixth game, the contract counts against the salary cap and he moves a year closer toward free agency. And while Matteau is a talented player, he’s not quite a phenom yet and could benefit from more seasoning in juniors.

Then again, the Devils thought enough of Matteau to put him on the top line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk against Montreal on Sunday night.

It’s the kind of jam teams around the league were faced with this week as the five-game window expired.

Matteau played against Montreal rookie Alex Galchenyuk in Sunday’s game. Galchenyuk, with five points in five games, was in the same spot as Matteau. The Canadiens decided this week to keep Galchenyuk, though, the third overall pick in the draft.

The Flyers sent Laughton, their 18-year-old first-round pick, back to his Oshawa junior team in the OHL. Laughton likely won’t play again for the Flyers this season, even if they make a playoff run, because there’s no sense wasting a year of his contract. He was scoreless in five games with Flyers.

“He needs to play and he needs to play in all situations,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “He’s a good young prospect and the little bit of time he had here with us was good for him and good for us.”

Because of the lockout that wiped out the first three months of the season, rookies had only a few days of training camp to impress club officials, then prove they were worth keeping after only five games. There’s enough pressure to make a team and play well for any rookie. This season, it soared.

Among the players who stayed in the NHL are Buffalo Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko, Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov.

Winnipeg has yet to make a decision on center Mark Scheifele (he’s played in three of six games), and Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell has played in four of the team’s five games.

The Minnesota Wild sent defenseman Mathew Dumba back to juniors. The Wild envision him becoming a top-shelf, puck-moving defenseman. His development will eventually be aided by the offseason acquisition of veteran defenseman Ryan Suter. But Dumba returned to the Western Hockey League without playing a game for the Wild, though he now knows what it’s like to be at the highest tier of hockey.

“I think that’s huge for me, getting to know the guys personally and just knowing what it takes to be at this level,” he said.

Categories: NHL
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.