After his name was called on the draft floor in 2019, Matt Stienburg went to shake Joe Sakic’s hand. The son of former Quebec Nordiques forward Trevor Stienburg was selected 63rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado received the selection back in 2017 from the three-team trade that also eventually brought them Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard.
The Cornell commit played four seasons, but it wasn’t without interruption. Like many young players, the global pandemic took his sophomore season from him. During his senior year, an injury kept him out from January – early March.
In his first development camp in 2022, he participated off-ice. As such, he all but snuck in with the recent crop of college free-agents when he made the transition to pro-play last year.
He was signed to an Amateur Tryout Agreement at the end of last season and appeared in eight total games for the Colorado Eagles including four in their playoff run.
Many were waiting for him to officially ink his entry-level contract.
Colorado held his exclusive rights up to and including August 15th. He tested free-agency like Will Butcher once upon a time, but he expressed a desire to stay on at the end of last season.
“We’ll see what happens that way. That’s something that agents and management will work out, but I’ve enjoyed my time here so I’m excited, hopefully, to stay here and see what happens.”
Even though the 3 PM MST deadline came and went on Tuesday, both parties still managed to come to an agreement.
Today he signed to a two-year entry-level contract through the 2024-25 season. Now that he is signed, the Avs have an intriguing forward prospect on their hands.
He appreciated the NCAA route and had an excellent junior year with 29 points in 28 games.
“The (older) age of the guys and the style of play really suited my game. Those extra years of development playing with some older guys helps make this transition easier,” he said.
Even though he had another year of eligibility, he made the professional leap at the end of his senior year. He enjoyed his time at Cornell but felt it was the right time for him to make the jump.
“After the last couple (of years), I was mentally and physically ready to move on. I wish them all the best, but I’m excited to be here and excited moving forward,” Stienburg explained.
The right-shot forward rounded out his collegiate career as an alternate captain alongside a familiar face.
Cornell’s captain, defenseman Sam Malinski, joined the Colorado Avalanche organization last year as well.
Malinski valued Stienburg’s voice in Cornell’s locker room.
“He led by example. He’s also a more vocal guy than I was, so it was nice to have him help me out,” Malinski said. “I think we worked really well together. Then you throw the other two captains in there as well – they obviously helped make a great group and a great team.”
The pair were led under the guidance of head coach, Mike Schafer. In order to prepare his players for the next level, Schafer emphasized a culture of accountability.
“Our kids understand that aspect of the game: making adjustments, being responsible to the team. That’s the kind of the culture that we have here, and it leads well into our guys making that adjustment. When coaches put them into play, they know that they can depend on them. They can trust him to do what they want them to do.”
His contributions to his team were multi-faceted. He helped to lead his team on and off the ice, played a middle-six role, and killed penalties.
“Perseverance and getting back in the lineup with no fear speaks volumes about him,” said Schafer.
Physicality is the pride of his game.
“(The role) he filled with us, and what he’s gonna build at the next level, is his strength, his competitiveness, and his physicality,” Schafer started.
“He’s a very combative player, he’s gonna play physical. He’s gotten stronger and stronger over the years and he’s playing at a higher pace. You’ll need to play at an even higher pace. As you move up, things get faster, quicker and more simple and Matt will continue to adjust in that area.”
“He understands pre-scouts – knows where the dangerous guys are on the ice to make his own reads based on that. He’s an excellent penalty killer.”
He was able to fully participate in this summer’s development camp, and the polish of his college career showed especially in the scrimmage.
“I like to try and play physically, do my job, play a fairly simple game, but (also) chip in when I can offensively. If there’s a play to be made, try and make it. Generally, (my identity is) playing a physical straight-line game,” he described of his own game.
He’s only just begun the transition from NCAA to pro-play, but Stienburg explained that the process hasn’t been so bad thanks to the similarities between Cornell and Colorado.
“Both coaches like to play a hard, physical style. That helped me in my adjustment (since) that’s a style I like to play.”
“It’s a bit of a step up physically and speed-wise, but (after a) few practices under my belt it’s been a good adjustment so far.”
Like many who’ve come before him, he’s a versatile forward who – though he has experience down the middle – is likely to stay on the wing as he continues to adjust to the pace of the professional game.
“It makes him versatile,” said Schafer. “The ability to play all three spots could open up the opportunity at the next level.”
“Wherever there’s an opening, you want to be able to step in and fill it and give yourself an opportunity that way,” Stienburg added.
With the ink finally dry, Colorado’s forward-depth for next season looks more promising and Stienburg will have an opportunity to flex his abilities at the Rookie Faceoff coming up in September.
The Avalanche will participate in the six-team tournament hosted by the Vegas Golden Knights from Sept. 15th -18th.