Is It Time For A Maatta Tryout?
Olli Maatta is a stand-alone in the ocean-like depth of defensive prospects boasted by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And that accolade is even more intriguing when you consider that Maatta doesn’t really excel in any one area of the ice.
It’s been said the best kind of defenseman in the National Hockey League is the one you don’t notice; the guy that plays 15 minutes a game and walks away having contributed to both ends of the ice in a very unassuming manner.
If it’s flair you’re looking for in Olli Maatta’s game, look elsewhere.
But there’s something to be said for a young forward that plays the refined style of hockey employed by Maatta. He’s a veteran in a pool of young, raw defenseman. He understands his role and executes it to perfection. He’s physical without being the classic bruiser in the vein of a Brooks Orpik. He’s capable with the puck without being the breakout wonder that is Kris Letang.
In short, Maatta is a jack of all trades, master of none.
For evidence of what Maatta is capable of, look no further than his career prior to being drafted first overall by the London Knights in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.
Maatta cut his teeth at the pro hockey level in Finland, a tall task for any 16 year old, and one that would seem impossible for most to accomplish.
Now, Maatta is in the midst of a great training camp in Pittsburgh. A camp that still sees him on the roster in the face of the final cuts.
With the recent injury to Kris Letang, although it isn’t described as serious, Maatta has a chance to compliment the defensive depth heading into the year.
The Penguins essentially have nine games to utilize Olli Maatta before burning a year off of a his entry level contract. If Maatta plays those nine games, he can be returned to the CHL without losing a year of his entry-level contract or having to deal with the messiness of a waiver wire.
But Maatta is also in that frustrating “NHL or Bust” category. Because he was drafted out of the CHL, Maatta does not meet the eligibility requirements for playing in the Wilkes-Barre farm system.
A player must turn 20 by December 31st of the current season, or have four years of junior eligibility under their belt in order to be assigned to the American Hockey League.
So, with Letang on the shelf, the Penguins may want to keep Maatta aboard in order to see what they have with this young defenseman. If he steps into a role on the third pairing and excels, and even more difficult decision has to be made, do you send him back or keep him with the parent club?
On one end of the coin, we’ve seen Maatta make a few errors. That isn’t uncommon for a young defenseman. The Penguins assuredly know that another year in London isn’t going to give Maatta much in the way of development. He’s learned about all he can at that level. But on the other side, sitting him on the bench or playing him in extremely limited minutes isn’t going to help his growth either.
It’s quite the conundrum.
But even head coach Dan Bylsma thinks he might have the tools necessary to make it to the big leagues sooner rather than later.
“He’s dependable, he skates well. Good, solid execution with the puck and he’s been that in the opportunities that he’s had. He’s very good at creating separation and making a play with the puck afterwards.”
If practice over the weekend was any indication, right now the Penguins have Maatta penciled into the lineup in some form.
But with cuts coming today at 5:00, that could be short lived.
Either way, one thing is for certain. The Penguins have a defenseman in Olli Maatta that is NHL ready way sooner than anyone thought he would be. That can’t be seen as anything but good.