Generally, coming to North America is a big adjustment for any European player, and Finnish-born defenceman Olli Maatta was no different when he arrived for his first training camp with the London Knights this past August.
How long that adjustment takes varies. For some, it can take half the season. Others pick it up fairly quickly.
"Maybe about 10 games and he was probably our best defenceman," London teammate Josh Anderson said of Maatta.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound blueliner had 32 points in 58 regular-season games for the Knights, and was even better in the postseason. He led all Ontario Hockey League defencemen in the playoffs with six goals, and no blueliner had more than his 23 points. He helped London win the OHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup championship game. Add in his time with Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championship, and Maatta played 82 games in 2011-12.
He said that extended schedule is one of the reasons he opted to leave Finland for Canada.
"The season has been long and it's been an experience I was looking forward to," he told NHL.com. "I'm pretty tired. It's been a long season. Probably mentally tired, too. Every game you have to get ready mentally and get pumped and everything. It's been a hard season."
But a successful one, as NHL Central Scouting placed him No. 8 in its final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft.
"He's really smart, smooth skating, no mistakes in his game," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "His decision-making, his positioning, it's excellent. He's a real reliable guy."
The Knights also thought highly of Maatta, and sent a player and three draft picks to the Barrie Colts for the chance to pick first at the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, and then selected Maatta ahead of fellow top 2012 NHL Draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko.
"I had seen him play in Germany [at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship] and he was one of the dominant defencemen. Power-play guy, penalty-kill guy, playing all the time," Dale Hunter, the Knights' president who started the season as the team's coach, told NHL.com. "And he was playing against kids that are two, three years older. He was doing very good against them. With his age, it makes a big difference at this age when you get 2-3 years different, but it didn't affect him at all. He's a big kid that jumps into the rush well, plays well defensively. That's what sold me on him. That's why we traded up."
Maatta said he felt no extra expectations placed on him in being the first player picked.
"I didn't feel pressure," he said. "I was really excited about it. They said to me, 'It's your first year. There will be ups and downs. Just go with it.' "
There were far more ups, as with Maatta, the Knights allowed just 178 goals, second-fewest in the OHL and 75 goals fewer than 2010-11.
The only downs came in December, when Canada's Boone Jenner knocked him out of the World Juniors with a concussion in the opening game, and the Knights' overtime loss to Shawinigan in the Memorial Cup Final.
He returned from the concussion in less than three weeks, and nothing affected him the rest of the season.
Not even Hunter's departure from the bench to take the coaching job with the Washington Capitals in December rattled him. In fact, Maatta said he saw it as a good thing. Part of that, though, was due to Hunter's replacement, Mark --London's GM and Dale's brother -- changed very little of the Knights' structure.
"It was kind of great," Maatta said. "It reminds us how close the NHL is. The coaching thing, it didn't change too much. Same family, same style of play. Team was doing well. We just kept continuing to do the same thing."
It's just that Maatta did his thing even better as the season went on.
"He was shocking how good he was," Mark Hunter told NHL.com. "He was one of the main reasons -- he was really good in the playoffs. He could have won the MVP in the playoffs.
"Everybody says it's a long season, he's only used to playing 40 games, but he seemed to thrive on it and get better and better. If I was in the National Hockey League I'd love to see it. It's a credit to his character."
Author: Adam Kimelman of NHL.com