Matthew Stienburg was in his second year of bantam hockey and getting ready to celebrate the Christmas holidays when he got sick with the flu.
As he was recovering, he noticed his shoulders and hip were sore and getting progressively worse. The pain, which was so bad that he could barely raise his arm, lasted over seven months.
It turned out he was dealing with Osteomyelitis, an infection on the front of his shoulder which was eating at the muscle and bones. A pair of surgeries along with a pick line feeding him antibiotics in his arm was supposed to keep him out for three to six months ahead of his first year of midget. Stienburg recovered in just under three, but an ailing hip forced him to go through the process once again.
In one of the biggest years for a budding hockey player’s early career – his Canadian Hockey League draft season – Stienburg was limited to just 15 games.
“That (injuries) obviously took that (CHL) out of the picture and then coming back and playing my second year midget, still being undersized, I opened up to the NCAA route,” he says.
Stienburg would make his way from his hometown Halifax to St. Andrew’s College, an all-boys prep school in Aurora, Ont., with over 600 students. He excelled there over the following two seasons and now finds himself as a prospect for Friday’s NHL Draft in Vancouver.
The St. Andrew’s hockey program has produced some top-end NHL talent over the past few years, including Robert Thomas (St. Louis), Warren Foegele (Carolina) and Dylan Sikura (Chicago), and is starting to get the attention of scouts. Enrolling at prep schools is an expensive venture, however, with tuition costing sometimes over $70,000 annually.
Mark Seidel is an independent scout and the owner of North American Central Scouting Inc. He has seen Stienburg play five times over the past two years and projects him to be a fifth- or sixth-round pick at the draft, but says he needs to get stronger.
“Like a lot of players that come out of St. Andrew’s, he understands the game,” Seidel says. “And I think when you’re getting a centre into the National League draft like that, it’s something teams look for.”
Stienburg, 18, chatted with several NHL area scouts over the past few months while filling out questionnaires for other franchises. He attended a mini-combine for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of May and another with the Chicago Blackhawks in early June.
The six-foot-one, 185-pound right winger played centre up until this past season and comes from big league bloodlines. His father, Trevor, is a former NHLer and current head coach of the men’s hockey team at St. Mary’s University.
The younger Stienburg, now coached by David Manning at St. Andrew’s, got the opportunity to play consistent minutes, develop physically and be challenged every game. He had 33 goals and 42 assists in 56 games while adding 98 penalty minutes. Stienburg captained the team to a 43-9-3 record and helped them capture several championships.
Manning says there’s a point of pride for the program to be accepting and developing unheralded hockey players.
“The kids that have been able to push through and get the accolades from the NHL Draft … these guys aren’t blue chip prospects when they come to us,” Manning says.
“These guys were all later round draft picks and two years later by just kind of growing and developing and putting in the work here, they’ve developed into NHL prospects.”
Evaluating talent at the prep school level is more difficult than others, Seidel says. Some games teams are playing the cream of the crop in their league, while other matchups may see them against lesser competition.
He says trying to determine where someone like Stienburg would fit into an Ontario Hockey league lineup with his skill set is the best measuring tool for differentiating talent.
Stienburg’s playing style has been compared to Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals or Josh Anderson of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Manning calls him “a bit of a throwback” with an edge to him.
During a call-up to Sioux City of the United States Hockey League this past season, Stienburg fought in his first junior game while racking up 15 penalty minutes in the process.
He says he’s not a fighter but enjoys playing a physical style.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s a big part of my game so I wanted to stick to that even going up to that next level,” Stienburg says.
NHL Central Scouting had Stienburg ranked 179 at the mid-term evaluations and he finished the year ranked 133 among North American skaters.
Even if he’s drafted this weekend, Stienburg plans to take a similar route to another former St. Andrew’s forward, Morgan Barron, and attend Cornell University next season to study business.
Stienburg thinks NHL scouts are getting more comfortable with giving prep school players, like himself, a look.
“Moving forward I think a lot of guys are going to start choosing this route over the junior route a little bit more,” he says.
It’s a path that may have seemed foreign not too long ago, but perceptions have started to shift, Seidel says.
“Ten to 15 years ago, he’s going to play at a prep school … you kind of roll your eyes and wonder why.
“Well now if somebody says they’re going to play for St. Andrew’s, teams are like ‘Hey, that’s good. I’ve got no problem with that.’”