Pittsburgh has been home for defenseman Olli Maatta from the very beginning.
Maatta was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2012 NHL Draft, which was held at CONSOL Energy Center. So Maatta spent a week in his new hometown before even realizing it would be home.
“It was a big snapshot in my career,” Maatta said. “I remember that day like yesterday, being in Pittsburgh and getting picked by Pittsburgh was awesome. It felt like home right away when I was there.”
And now, thanks to a six-year contract extension Maatta signed with the Pens on Friday morning, Pittsburgh will remain home for the foreseeable future.
“I’m really happy I got a long deal,” the 21-year-old said. “I love this city. I really settled down well. With this team, we have a chance to compete in the Stanley Cup and win the Stanley Cup every year. That’s really important.
“It feels awesome. I’m blessed to be here. I’m really happy to be a part of this organization for this long and even longer.”
Maatta, who could have opted to sign a shorter-term deal to hit unrestricted free agency sooner, chose instead to make Pittsburgh home through the 2021-22 season with an average annual value of $4.083 million.
“I want to be a part of the Penguins. I like this organization a lot,” he said. “I like the team here. We have a great team every year with (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang. Marc-Andre Fleury) in net. I’m just happy to be a part of it. My goal is to be here for a long time.”
Maatta (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) is enjoying one of the best seasons of his short pro career. He has six goals, 16 points and a plus-18 in 53 games this season. His plus-18 ranks third among all NHL defensemen.
“I think it’s great for Pittsburgh’s organization. It’s great for Olli,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Hopefully, Olli will get a lot of confidence out of it because he’ll understand how this organization values him and how good of a player that we think he is. It’s great for him and great for us as well.”
Maatta has bounced back remarkably this season after a shoulder injury and cancerous tumor limited him to just 20 games in his sophomore campaign in 2014-15. The Jyvaskyla, Finland native is happy to have put that season behind him.
“I don’t even think of last season any more. I’m over it,” Maatta said. “I’m happy I’m back on the ice and I feel great playing out there.”
Maatta has played with All-Star blueliner Kris Letang for the majority of the season, and the two have become the team’s top defensive pair.
“I think they’re a very good pair. I think they compliment each other very well,” Sullivan said. “One of Olli’s strengths is his hockey sense. He sees the ice really well. He makes pretty good decisions with the puck. He has the ability to play at both ends of the rink. ‘Tanger’ is a guy, a pretty dynamic player that plays at both ends as well. We feel they compliment each other very well. We like the tandem.”
And with both blueliners signed to lengthy contracts that run through the 2021-22 season, it could be a pair that plays together for many years.
“That would be fun,” Letang said. “We have a chance to build on something that we have going right now. It would be cool.”
Even though he is just 21 years old, Maatta plays and lives well beyond his years. The team has raved about his maturity from his very first training camp as a wide-eyed 18-year-old.
“From the start when he came in with us, his maturity was a big thing, how he acts on and off the ice,” Letang said. “He’s a true professional. He trains hard. He is always focused.”
And don’t think that Maatta will be complacent with his new deal. Despite all of the Pens’ immense talent, Maatta doesn’t want to be another brick in the wall. He wants to be a difference-maker.
“My mindset is to be a big part of this team. I want to produce out there. I don’t just want to a part of the team,” Maatta said. “I want to play a big role. That’s my goal. That’s what I work toward every day. That’s my mindset going out there. I want to help the team the best way that I can.”
And thanks to his autograph, Maatta will be a big part of the team for the next six years.