The future may be now – at least for a while.
With defenseman Kris Letang on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 2012 first-round draft pick Olli Maatta will begin the season on the Penguins roster – and coach Dan Bylsma said he will likely get an opportunity to play while Letang is out.
“We’re probably going to see (Maatta) playing in games for the time that Kris is not on our active roster,” Bylsma said.
Maatta said that he knew he had a strong showing at training camp, and thought that in itself might have been enough to give him an opportunity to play a few games in Pittsburgh. But when Letang was placed on IR, that possibility became a reality for Maatta.
“I knew I played well in the exhibition games and I knew I had a good camp,” he said. “I knew I might have a chance to be here for a few games. That’s what happened and I’m real happy about it. But I’ve got to still work on my game and improve my game so I can stay here.”
Staying may prove to be a challenge for Maatta on a team with the defensive depth the Penguins possess, as he is still a teenager and won’t be turning 20 until next August – meaning he is ineligible to play in the American Hockey League this season. He either has to play in Pittsburgh or be returned to his junior team, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
In addition, Maatta can play a total of just nine games with Pittsburgh before his three-year entry-level contract kicks in and the first season of his deal is eaten up no matter how long he stays with the Penguins.
That being said, it looks like the Penguins may take full advantage of that nine-game allotment for Maatta instead of simply keeping him on as an extra body while Letang is out. Coming into training camp Bylsma mentioned how the scouting reports on Maatta said he was NHL-ready, and so far they appear to be accurate.
Physically Maatta is mature enough for the NHL at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, and mentally he appears to be as well. He impressed during camp with his intelligence, composure, puck decisions and execution. It makes sense for the coaches to want to see even more from the kid who should be a smooth, solid all-around NHL defenseman.
“The clock is ticking on Olli in terms of him being a young player,” Bylsma said. “We have a nine-game window for him. (We are) probably more likely to take the opportunity to put him in in games and play him than it would be to spot or just have him be here on the roster.”
Maatta may have achieved his first goal of making the team out of camp. Now he’s focused on his next one – staying here all season.
“This is an opportunity to show I can play the whole season here,” Maatta said. “That’s my goal. I’m going to try my best to do it."