Olli Maatta loved competing for his native Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. But he's thrilled to be back in his adopted home of Pittsburgh.
The defenseman - who turned 22 last month - participated in his first training camp practice on Monday, and couldn't stop talking about how happy he was to be back with the same group that won it all last year.
"It's nice to get back out there with the guys. It feels weird because the team hasn't changed at all," he said with a smile. "It's the same guys, we only lost a couple. It feels the same as last year. It feels like coming back home when the team is the same and it feels so familiar."
Maatta has never had the benefit of an actual full summer of training since making the Pens as a 19-year-old three years ago. He recovered from shoulder surgeries each of his first two offseasons, and his third one was extremely short with the Pens winning the Stanley Cup and then going to the World Cup.
But despite not having a lot of time to recover, Maatta was just grateful he wasn't stuck rehabbing.
"It was great to have a healthy summer," he said. "Obviously, you have some bruises after a year. You take some time off to heal those and just relax. It was short but it was a great summer."
Maatta took about a month and a half off before skating in August and then joining Team Finland in September. While they went 0-3-3 during the exhibition and tournament play, Maatta said he loved the event.
"Obviously, we didn't do well, it's disappointing," he said. "Usually our expectations are high when you go play for Team Finland, but I think the tournament was great. I think they did a great job of putting it up and setting it up. It was an unbelievable experience. I hope the fans and people liked it too."
Now, Maatta's focus is on the Pens and working on the areas he feels need improvement.
"Obviously, it's just getting conditioning back," he said. "That's the biggest thing, getting back to in-season shape. Personally, obviously my skating. Skating is always the biggest thing, I've been working on a long time, I still got to get better at it."
Maatta is coming off a season where he experienced a lot of adversity on the ice, being a healthy scratch at times in the playoffs. But he elevated his play when the team needed him, partnering with Ben Lovejoy - who signed with New Jersey in the offseason - to be a solid top-four D pairing during the Final against San Jose.
"Olli's a young defenseman," Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think sometimes we forget the roles we put him in. We put him in a significant role, he played top-four minutes most of the year for us as a 21-year-old. I think that speaks volumes for how this coaching staff feels about him as a player and a person. He's got great hockey sense, he's very competitive, but we believe Olli has a great opportunity for his game to grow to another level as well. We're constantly striving to get better and as young as Olli is, we think his game can get to another level. We're going to work with him in a lot of areas this year. We certainly spent a lot of time with him trying to improve his foot speed and his quickness and things of that nature and will continue to do that for him. I think the fact that the role he played on this team last year speaks volumes for how this coaching staff feels about him."
Maatta doesn't know exactly where he stands on the depth chart right now. His goal is just to be a big contributor to the team.
"It's wherever Mike needs me," he said. "Obviously, I want to play big minutes too, I want to be a factor and I want to be a big part of this team. But we have a great D-group and it's not easy, you got to earn it. If you don't there's always someone who's going to step up. I think that's good about us, our depth is so good that there's always the next guy up."