The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have eight starting defensemen on their roster, but they shouldn’t let that delay them from promoting defensive prospect Olli Maatta to the big leagues this season.
Maatta, 18 (will be 19 on August 22nd), was the Pens first-round (22nd overall) draft choice in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s got all the tools to be an effective contributor for Pittsburgh this season.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 200-pounds, Maatta brings the size and skill that the Pens defensive unit desperately lacked this past postseason.
A solid two-way blueliner, although he remains quite young and doesn’t have any NHL experience, the tall Finnish defenseman is only going to get better sooner if he becomes acclimated promptly to the pros.
There’s nothing wrong with letting him grow in the AHL at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this upcoming season, but the Pens of all teams haven’t been shy to integrate their youth.
Ask Jordan Staal, ask Evgeni Malkin — Sidney Crosby.
Now while those players were all number 1-2 draft choices, Maatta was considered to be a top-10 pick — so Pittsburgh shouldn’t feel obligated to groom him down at WBS for a year.
Even though some of the Pens defenseman have experience and know the system, are they really going to help the team this season?
Are Robert Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen going to support the defensive core any more sufficient than Maatta can?
While all three of those blueliners possess the capability to hold their own defensively, they all got a problem with puck management — which when it came down to it, hurt the club in a lot of their losses.
Maatta — although he’s not flashy — has a good eye towards seeing where his forwards are on the ice and controls the puck to the point that he hardly turns it over uncharacteristically.
Participating in exhibition games during the 2014 World Junior Championship evaluation camp earlier this month, Maatta registered four points (all assists) in three contests for Team Finland — which ranked him fourth for scoring amongst all skaters.
There’s no question that he’ll make the team for the WJC’s in December because he’s serving as the squads captain (he was alternate captain at last years festivities), which further boasts his resume on him making the Pens roster.
Maatta already has a few AHL games under his belt — playing in three postseason contests for WBS, however he did not record a point.
And prior to him joining the baby Pens during their playoff push, Maatta finished up his final year with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he potted 52 points (12G, 40A) in 78 total contests for the club.
He finished 24th amongst defensive scorers, and hadn’t he missed 11 games he almost certainly would’ve concluded with more points.
So while there’s little debate that Maatta is going to be a immense contributor for years to come, the question now is when will he start fulfilling that description?
The Pens don’t have to inaugurate him this year, but they ought to strongly consider it.