Already log jammed on the defensive side, is it possible that the Pittsburgh Penguins end up keeping their highly-touted prospect Olli Maatta on the roster regardless?
According to Michelle Crechiolo of the Pittsburgh Penguins official team website, Maatta was paired up with Norris finalist Kris Letang during Wednesday’s practice, speculating that the young blueliner could potentially be in line to ultimately stay with the team.
Olli Maatta paired with Kris Letang in a drill. They’re playing behind the line of Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis. #TheFuture -MC
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 18, 2013
Maatta, who performed in Tuesday’s preseason matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, also participated in the Pens’ rookie tournament earlier this month and opened up the eyes of the coaching staff.
Specifically Alain Nasreddine.
Nasreddine, who served as the Pens’ assistant coach during the tournament (John Hynes was the head coach), had high praise for Maatta’s skill set and foresaw giving the Pens’ coaching staff a tough decision on whether or not to keep him – according to Crechiolo.
Here’s what he said:
“He’s got an NHL body, he’s got the hockey sense, really good hockey sense. So he’s good. He’s going to be good. I think he’s going to force the management’s hand as far as pushing for a spot.”
There’s also the question as to how the Pens will meet the salary cap limit because they’re currently $1,098,333 over the amount allowed — which could also benefit Maatta.
According to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh knows that they can meet the salary cap by sending defenseman Simon Despres to the AHL, and he’s the lone skater that doesn’t have to clear waivers — considering he’s signed under an entry-level contract.
While that prediction about Despres is contradictory towards Maatta making the team — because they’re both signed to entry-level deals — it could also forecast that Pittsburgh is favoring Maatta over Despres, due to the fact Despres partnered up with Letang most of last season.
Pittsburgh also knows that another player is making a sufficient amount of money, preventing them from keeping both on the active roster — Matt Niskanen.
Niskanen, who is set to make 2.3 million this season, will become an unrestricted free agent next year, making him a prime target to potentially be moved and clear up some cap space for Despres/Maatta.
Although a deal is unlikely to take place before the start of the 2013-14 regular-season, Pens’ fans also realize that Ray Shero is one of the most active and spontaneous General Manager’s in the league, clearly capable of pulling off a trade at the most unexpected time.
With that being said, it’s hard to predict whether or not Shero will make a trade happen; however, because we get reports that Maatta is paired up with Letang, it could mean Pittsburgh will see Maatta on its roster at some point this season.
For now, in my opinion, I’d say that Maatta will play elsewhere for at least the start of the year.
In 58 regular-season contests for the London Knights (OHL) last year, Maatta compiled 32 points (5G, 27A) and scored a phenomenal 23 points (6G, 17A) in 19 postseason games.