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FEATURE: Blackhawks think Maatta can be steadying defensive force

Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman continues to check off items on his offseason to-do list by adding defenseman Olli Maatta.

by Chris Kuc / Blackhawks.com

Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman continues to check off items on his offseason to-do list.

A main order of business was to bolster a defense that struggled for much of the 2018-19 season and Bowman addressed that with Saturday's trade with the Penguins that brought veteran blueliner Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round selection in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft.

"There are a lot of things to like about Olli Maatta," Bowman said during a conference call Sunday. "Certainly, his strength in the last few seasons has been his ability to be a good, reliable defender. He's got good size - not necessarily he is a bruising defenseman - but I like the fact that he's got an active stick. He's good at using his body to shield in front of the net and I think he's shown the ability to be used in several different situations over the past few years in Pittsburgh."

Bowman said the 24-year-old Maatta can be used in all situations, but helping keep pucks out of the Blackhawks' net will be the main focus.

"I just like his all-around game," Bowman said. "(He has) instincts with the puck, he finds the open man, he moves it quick (and) moves it up to the forwards. The biggest thing is his ability to play a sound defensive game. That's one aspect that we weren't strong in last year and I think he's going to give us that ability to match up against players."

Bowman also likes Maatta's pedigree, pointing out the Jyväskylä, Finland, native has appeared in 362 regular-season games and 69 postseason contests while helping the Penguins win Stanley Cups in 2016 and '17.

"There's an experience level that he has at a young age and I think he's going to fit in real nicely with our group," Bowman said.

The left-handed-shooting Maatta had a goal and 13 assists along with 116 blocked shots and 97 hits in 60 games with the Penguins during the'18-19 season.

"I'm just happy to play in a great organization that I'm going to be a part of," Maatta said. "(The Blackhawks) want to win, and that's a huge thing. I know going in it's a proud team and last year missing playoffs technically wasn't good enough. They all want to get better. I'm happy about that.

"(My) main job is to kind of play a pretty solid and simple game," Maatta added. "Nothing fancy is going to be my game really. Just try and get the puck to the forwards and jump in when you can and maybe chip in offensively still."

An injury limited Maatta to 60 games in '18-19 but he said Sunday that he is 100 percent healthy and "I can be way better than I played last season.

Added Bowman: "(Maatta's) strengths are something that were not strengths for us, and that would be his ability to defend. He's got pretty good skills to move the puck as well. We certainly want our defensemen to be able to do that. We like the transition game (and) I think that was a strength of our team last year. We think he can certainly complement that, but first and foremost, we're going to look for him to be a steadying force for us on the defensive side."

The addition of Maatta most certainly won't be the last for Bowman and the Blackhawks as he retools the roster for the '19-20 season.

"We want to find some new players for our team (and) whether that's through trades or free agency, it doesn't matter too much," said Bowman, who added that trade chatter has been active throughout the league. "I've had a number of conversations and I expect that to continue over the next week. This is the time of year where there is a lot of player movement with the draft and July 1st (and free agency) on the horizon. I think we're going to continue to look into other ways to improve our team through trades, and if none of that comes to be, then we'll look at the free-agent market. We expect to be active. We're going to keep looking at other ways to improve our defense and the rest of our team."

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