After four straight games as a healthy scratch, Devils rookie Stefan Matteau will dress tonight when the Devils take on the Lightning in New Jersery.
It’ll be Matteau’s sixth game of the season, and six is a magic number.
See, junior-eligible players — which Matteau is — are allowed to play five games at the NHL level this season before clubs can return them without “burning” a year of their entry-level deals.
But play the sixth and boom, burned.
Other teams have avoided the singe. The Jets recently returned Mark Scheifele to OHL Barrie after he played four games. Earlier, Philly sent Scott Laughton back to junior after he played five games with the Flyers.
New Jersey dressed Matteau in the first five games of the year, then made him a healthy scratch in the next four, possibly to delay having to make a decision.
Anyway, back to the situation at hand.
On Thursday morning, the club learned that Dainius Zubrus suffered an upper-body injury, meaning Matteau — who’s currently residing in Zubrus’ house! — would draw in for his sixth game of the year.
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer insisted any decisions made regarding Matteau weren’t influenced by his junior eligibility.
“Lou said right from day one he wasn’t going to let contract status stand in the way if he thought Stef could help us,” DeBoer told NJ.com. “So that hasn’t factored into the decision.
“We have Zubrus out and he’s the next left winger available to us and the most ready to play. He’ll go in.”
It should be mentioned that playing in his sixth NHL game only guarantees Matteau one thing — the first year of his entry-level deal has been triggered.
The Devils could still *theoretically* send him back to junior, though it would seem a waste given they’re paying him a pro-rated salary of $843,000 this season, and would waste a full year of his NHL service.