Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensive prospect Olli Maatta, who made the roster due to Kris Letang being placed on injured reserve, has seen his minutes increase gradually with each game the club plays.
So does this mean he will ultimately remain on the team when Letang returns?
Skating 14:44 minutes in the season-opener against the New Jersey Devils, Maatta — who has played in every contest so far this season — played a total of 16:42 minutes in Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers.
Paired up with Robert Bortuzzo for each of the Pens’ first four games of the season, Maatta has been favored to start over defenseman Deryk Engelland, who has yet to see action. The 19-year-old Finnish blueliner even got the chance to skate alongside defenseman Paul Martin in Friday’s contest, leading us to speculate Maatta could be here longer than anticipated.
Notching his first two career NHL points in Tuesday’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Maatta has played sufficiently on the offensive side of the ice, but he’s played even more impressive defensively.
Playing a sound game that involves responsible puck distribution and smart decision making, Maatta is matured beyond his years.
Despite a shaky start in his NHL debut, the young blueliner has been as good as advertised; however, because the team is overloaded with defensive depth, will he become expendable?
More importantly, are the Pens’ comfortable with the team they’ll have should they ship Maatta back to his junior team?
Assuming Bortuzzo will still be in the starting lineup, he’ll most likely be paired with Matt Niskanen, who has had a mediocre start to the season. While it would make things easier, in terms of the lineup, if Maatta was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), would they still have the same continuity?
Simple decision — leave the kid in the NHL.
Re-assigning Maatta wouldn’t do them any justice because Pittsburgh’ knows that they’re a better team when he’s in the lineup. More to the point, he’s developing swiftly to the NHL game, so there’s no reason to move him back to juniors.
We won’t know what happens to Maatta until Letang makes his season debut, but if Pittsburgh is smart — which I know they are — they’ll keep him for the long run.
In four contests, Maatta has recorded two points, both being helpers, and skated to a plus-1 rating.
Pittsburgh’s got the Lightning Saturday, in Tampa, and is set to start at 7 p.m.