First-year New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes has done a brilliant job this season. He’s pushed all the right buttons and has the Devils in the playoff conversation when not many people expected them to be, well frankly, any good at all. Hynes’ mastery of knowing who to play and who to bench on a nightly basis is a big reason why the Devils have been so successful. As opposed to years past with a certain former coach, he doesn’t seem to play favorites or keep players in the dog house. However, there is one player that hasn’t been able to find consistent playing time.
For whatever reason Stefan Matteau, the 21-year-old Chicago native can’t seem to stay in the lineup. He’s only dressed once since January 8th – a 3-0 loss at Colorado – and has only played in 20 of the team’s 49 games this season. Granted his stats haven’t been impressive – one goal and a -9 – by any means, but I would still rather see him play over some other players namely Tuomo Ruutu.
Nothing personally against Ruutu, but I would much rather have Matteau get the playing time. Ruutu’s stats aren’t great either – no points and a -1 in 14 games – so it’s not like he’s been majorly outperforming Matteau. I can’t speak for Hynes but he probably prefers having Ruutu’s veteran experience and edge defensively in the lineup helping out the bottom six. I get that, to an extent. At the same time, I think it makes more sense to give those minutes to Stefan Matteau.
Both Matteau and Ruutu have similar games; they like to use their body and get in on forechecks. Ruutu is more reliable defensively while Matteau should add more offense in a perfect world. While Matteau has just that one goal this season, I have seen a lot of positives from him when he got the chance to play. He had to play middle six minutes when he did crack the lineup due to a plethora of injuries and he provided good support for his linemates. His game seemed to be coming along.
Perhaps the biggest argument for Matteau over Ruutu would be the future outlook. While the Devils are in the midst of a playoff race, this season should also be about finding out what they have for next season and beyond. After acquiring Tuomo Ruutu in a deadline deal for Andrei Loktionov from the Carolina Hurricanes two years ago, he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and will likely not be re-signed. Matteau, on the other hand, was the Devils’ first-round pick in 2012 (the one they didn’t forfeit for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract penalty) and is only just 21. If he could develop, that would be a huge boost for the forward corps of the Devils for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately the call is John Hynes’ and I have full trust in his decision-making. I just feel like Stefan Matteau should be getting more of an opportunity to prove himself over someone who likely won’t be a member of the Devils next season.