Moved to the top pairing with defenseman Matt Niskanen and logging heavy minutes in the absence of the team’s top-4 blueliners, youngster Olli Maatta is filling-in just fine.
Maatta, still a teenager, wasn’t even thought to make the Pittsburgh Penguins’ opening day roster. Of course, there’s always a chance, but the team had multiple defensemen with more experience than Maatta at the time.
And yet here we are today, seeing right before our very eyes why Pittsburgh selected him in the first-round (22nd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
We heard about how mature he was, and how seasoned he had been described as, but I don’t think anyone expected him to be this valuable – in his first NHL season no less. However, young Maatta has been a mainstay and an outstanding asset on the Pens’ blue-line.
Deliberated to potentially be sent back to his junior club in the Ontario Hockey League, the London Knights, once his nine-game audition came to a close, Pittsburgh is probably feeling elated they held onto him. A tremendously gifted two-way defenseman, Maatta has been strong on both ends. Especially in the most recent games, where him and Niskanen have had to shoulder the load on defense.
Recording 28:06 minutes in last night’s victory over the New York Rangers, Maatta became just the third Pens’ defensemen to log 28-plus minutes this season. And over the last three contests, he is averaging 24:11 minutes of ice-time, which is well-beyond his normal workload. But the increase in playing time only shows the confidence head coach Dan Bylsma has in him.
With each passing game, Maatta gets stronger and more experienced. He’s tenacious, resilient, and quickly emerging as one of the league’s top defensemen. Unfazed by the NHL’s aura, Maatta, with exception to his first game perhaps, has held his own through his first 36 professional games. If there’s a player the recent call-ups’ could try to mirror, it would almost have to be Maatta because of how young and tranquil he is.
The team needed Maatta to step-up with essentially their whole d-crew landing on IR, and he’s seized the responsibility. Although mistakes will be made on occasion, he’ll promptly learn from it and move forward effortlessly. It’s funny because when you look at the way he plays, it really does seem as though he’s been in the league for longer than he actually has.
Despite the ongoing saga of Pittsburgh’s injury dilemma, Maatta continues to display vast poise and diligence on the team’s back-end. His playing time might diminish when the Pens’ go-to defensemen eventually return, but for now, he’s showing that he can record quality minutes.
The kid knows how to play hockey – period.