Could Olli Maatta Reach the 50-Point Mark Next Season?


The 2015-16 NHL season will mark the return of Pittsburgh’s defensive dominance, with Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot, and Olli Maatta all figuring to get back into the opening night lineup.

Letang’s importance to this club was made crystal clear by the Pens’ downward spiral following his concussion late this season, and Pouliot has already been labeled the future of Pittsburgh’s blue line.

Yet the third member of this elite trio, Maatta, will perhaps be the team’s most crucial addition next season.

The young blue-liner has been phenomenal throughout his time in the NHL thus far. In his rookie campaign, Maatta racked up 29 points and finished 5th in voting for the Calder Trophy.

More significant than his offensive numbers, however, was Maatta’s spectacular defensive play. The 19-year-old drew praise from analysts around the league as he improved game after game, playing a positionally-sound, reliable, veteran brand of hockey.

Maatta continued his fine play this season, despite dealing with his fair share of adversity. First came a bout with a thyroid tumour. Then came a season-ending shoulder surgery. When it was all said and done, he finished with only 20 games, in which he posted 9 points.

With Maatta set to return, hungrier than ever, next season, the sky is seemingly the limit in terms of what he could accomplish.

This isn’t simply a case of a promising prospect with more to give. Maatta has already established himself as a reliable NHL defenseman, and one of the best on the Pens’ roster, despite playing only 98 career games in the big leagues.

He clearly possesses a passion for learning every aspect of the game, as can be seen in his continued improvement.

Thus, the question must be asked: just how far could Maatta rise next season? Could he possibly hit the 50-point mark?

It may seem like somewhat of an absurd hypothetical – only 11 defenseman in the league topped 50 points this season after all – but there is some credence to the possibility.

Firstly, Maatta has proven he has the offensive skill to do it.

In his first season, as a fresh-faced rookie thrust into the lineup only because of injuries to key contributors such as Letang, the young defender neared the 30-point mark.

His offensive skill was on display in juniors, as he posted 70 points in 115 career OHL games for the London Knights. The total put Maatta on a .60 points-per-game pace – i.e. good for 50 points over an 82 game stretch.

Even among the world’s best at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Maatta continued to excel, posting 5 points in 6 games for the bronze-medalist Finnish squad.

As he’s clearly adjusted to the NHL environment already, it’s not out of the question that Maatta could make the points jump next season. The most telling factor in the issue of this offensive improvement is the role Maatta will be given when he returns.

The Pens’ 2015 postseason came to a disappointing end as Pittsburgh’s injured defensive corps simply wasn’t able to measure up to the elite offense of the New York Rangers.

Maatta’s reliable shutdown skill was surely missed and thus, the Pens’ coaching staff will surely give him a central role come next season.

Kris Letang will regain his spot on the first pairing, and with former partner Paul Martin questionable to return next season due to the team’s wish to employ a younger, cheaper blue line in order to fund an improved group of forwards, Maatta could very well find himself skating alongside the former Norris Trophy nominee.

That being the case, the young Maatta would certainly see a notable boost in his numbers – especially considering the amount of ice-time Letang shares with offensive dynamos Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Powerplay time won’t be out of the question for Maatta either, adding another element to his offensive potential.

Much is left to be seen in regards to Maatta’s ceiling, but judging from his undeniably strong performance thus far, he’ll be given all the opportunity in the world to flourish next season, and looks set to take a big step forward in terms of his place among the league’s best.

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