At the beginning of the season, Pittsburgh invited two young defensemen, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, to training camp this year to see how they would fair with some of Pittsburgh’s better defensemen. When it came to selecting a roster for the 2013-2014 season, Määttä’s solid performance during training camp, due to an injury to Kris Letang, earned him a spot on the Pittsburgh’s roster to start the 2013-14 season, as a result of, Pouliot went back to his junior team and Maatta had 10 days to show Pittsburgh he was capable of staying with the team. He scored the first points of his NHL career on October 8, 2013, assisting on two goals by Jussi Jokinen in the Penguins 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes
In the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Pittsburgh traded center Jordan Staal to Carolina for center Brandon Sutter and the ability to have Carolina’s eighth round draft pick, which they selected Pouliot. Still holding onto their 22nd draft pick, they selected Pouliot. The penguins believed that with such a stacked offense that they could could invest in the two young highly talented defenders for the future.
Maatta has been paired with defender Matt Niskanen for the whole season, both defenders are used to one another now and are stepping up in major ways recently with the recent injuries to Pittsburgh’s defense.
Earlier this season, it was rumored that Pittsburgh may try to trade Niskanen due to salery cap issues and to maybe pave the way for other young defensemen to step up like Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres. However, GM Ray Shero felt it was best to have Niskanen to stay. I would say that it’s paying off right now, as Niskanen has stepped up in a major way along with Maatta.
Maatta’s strength is his hockey IQ and the ability to block shots. Already this season, Maatta leads the team in blocked shots with 65. Maatta is not afraid to put his body on the line. Maatta seems to find the open ice to make plays. Maatta does make a few rookie mistakes every once in a while, however, his strengths out weigh the weaknesses. The other bonus to Maatta is that he is only 19-years-old! He’s still early on in his professional NHL career and will learn and continually improve.
On Thursday, Oct. 19, Maatta was called for a penalty and as Pittsburgh successfully killed it, Maatta came out of the box found the open ice and had a breakaway which led to a penalty shot for Maatta. Maatta made the goal hitting off Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom’s leg pad, making Maatta the 2nd defenseman in Penguins franchise history to score on a penalty shot since George Konik Jan. 31, 1968.
So far this season, Maatta has 3 goals, 11 assists, with 11 points and a plus/minus of 6. Maatta racked up 28 minutes of ice time on 33 shifts on Oct. 18 against the New York Rangers, that was only second behind Niskanen that night. Which ranks him in the middle of the pack on with points among other teammates this season. However, as mentioned, Maatta is producing with his ability and skill not by the points. It’s noticeable that Maatta is quickly becoming a fan favorite and the team is rallying behind him.
I think Pittsburgh has done a great job bringing up Maatta and allow him to ease is way into the line up. He’s certainly come into his own. Maatta is the future of Pittsburgh’s defense and I know fans are excited to see more of him this season.