Like many European players who dream of playing in the National Hockey League, Olli Maatta came to North America to improve his game and prepare for the on- and off-ice life of the NHL.
And like many first-year import players, Maatta struggled out of the gate as he adjusted to the North American game.
As the 2011-12 season progressed, Maatta only improved, culminating in his eye-opening playoff performance as he helped the London Knights capture the Ontario Hockey League title and make a run to the Memorial Cup championship game.
After leading OHL rookie defensemen in scoring with 32 points (5g, 27a) in 58 regular-season games, Maatta posted 23 points (6g, 17a) in just 19 games in the postseason, ranking tied for first among all OHL defensemen.
“He had a very, very strong performance that played a large role in London’s success,” MacDonald said.
Though some scouts wonder if Maatta’s offensive abilities can translate at the NHL level, his defensive acumen is solid and unquestioned. He was a plus-25 in the regular season and a plus-11 in the playoffs, and he’s ranked eighth overall among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.
|HOMETOWN: JYVASKYLA, FINLAND |
|HEIGHT: 6-2 |
|WEIGHT: 200 |
|BIRTHDAY: AUG. 22, 1994 (AGE 17) |
Some scouts have offered comparisons to Ryan Suter, as Maatta is seen as a calm and composed puck-moving defenseman. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound blueliner is reliable in his own end and plays a defensively sound game. His keen hockey sense enables him to read plays well and break them up before they become legitimate scoring chances.
Maatta’s improvement over the course of the season resulted in a more prominent role on the power play, where his vision to make the perfect pass and mobility at the point allowed him to prosper.
“At the end of the season, he was taking charge,” MacDonald said. “He went from a mop-up guy on the power play to a guy who was playing the whole two minutes.”
The London Knights eyed Maatta’s skills from the beginning, when they traded a player and three picks to select him first overall in the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, ahead of top forward prospect Mikhail Grigorenko and the Canes’ 2011 second-round draft pick Victor Rask.
Maatta’s international experience is quite extensive compared to other draft-eligible prospects. At age 17, Maatta has already participated in two World Junior Championships with Team Finland. In 2011, Maatta became the youngest player ever to be named to Finland’s WJC team at the age of 16.
Maatta only played in one game of the 2012 WJC after being concussed on a hit from Canada’s Boone Jenner. The Jyvaskyla, Finland native returned from the concussion three weeks later, and after another adjustment period showed no lasting ill effects.
Already experienced with playing at a high level, especially on the international stage, and thriving in the North American game when the stakes and competition are elevated, Maatta projects to be a top 15 selection on June 22. It’s probable he’ll be available in the eighth hole, and with a number of the top defensive prospects having a strong offensive game, Maatta would be a dependable defense-focused selection.