AT 19, OLLI MAATTA’S JOURNEY to the NHL has
been rapid — especially considering he decided he wanted to
play hockey for a living about five years ago.
The native of Finland also grew up playing soccer and didn’t
fully commit to organized hockey — which he admits is his first
love — until he was 14. Two years later, he was the youngest
player ever to suit up for Finland in the World Junior Championships. Another two years passed, and Maatta was leading
Ontario Hockey League rookie defensemen in scoring — and
was selected 22nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the
2012 NHL draft.
Despite a strong training camp, few predicted that Maatta
would stick with the Pens in 2013. The team already had a
logjam on the blue line. Maatta had a nine-game window before
the Penguins had to make a long-term decision — keep him or
send him back to his junior team in London, Ontario. Injuries,
namely to All-Star Kris Letang, made it possible for him to play
in at least those nine games. Maatta took it from there.
The Penguins knew what they were getting in Maatta. A
solid two-way defenseman with good skating ability, he plays a
simple and intelligent defensive game while remaining a threat
to join in the offensive rush at any time. Less predictable but no
less welcome: his ability to play with the craftiness and poise of a
There’s an outside chance the Penguins could still
send Maatta back to his junior club this season; if he
plays beyond Game 40, he would be eligible for unrestricted
free agency at age 25. The Penguins no doubt will consider all of
their options, but Maatta’s play on the ice has confirmed that he
Olli Maatta,the Penguins’ soft-spoken rookie defenseman,
prefers to let his play on the ice do the talking.
BY RICH MILLER