The Penguins were absolutely thrilled to get defenseman Olli Maatta
with the No. 22 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft – especially because he’s the kind of talent that could have gone much earlier.
“The Penguins definitely got a steal where they got him,” London teammate and fellow Pittsburgh prospect Scott Harrington said. “I definitely thought he’d go top 10 for sure. He’s just an all-around two-way defenseman. He does everything really well. He plays with a lot of poise and confidence.”
And Maatta couldn’t have been happier to go to the hometown crowd with the 22nd-overall pick – especially after seeing the reception that the Penguins’ other first-round pick, Derrick Pouliot (eighth overall), received after being selected.
“It was great. Actually, the feeling was unbelievable,” Maatta said. “I had kind of hoped to get drafted by Pittsburgh when they cheered for Pouliot when he got picked No. 8. It was a pretty good feeling.”
Maatta’s got that poise and confidence Harrington mentioned despite being the youngest prospect in the Penguins organization at 17 years old (he doesn’t turn 18 until Aug. 22). And physically, Maatta is already well on his way to having an NHL-ready frame at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds.
“Maatta is over 200 pounds right now,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “You can see what he’s going to be.”
Maatta has already accomplished a lot in his young hockey career. Most recently, he played a big role in helping the Knights to the Memorial Cup Championship Final in May – where they lost in overtime to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
This past season marked Maatta’s first in North America, as the young defenseman was born and raised in Finland. He was one of just two players on London’s roster that came to the team through the CHL Import Draft, but he picked up both the North American style of play and culture quickly thanks to his teammates and coaches.
“The game differs a little bit from the game in Europe, but the guys taught me well and taught me a lot and so did the coaches,” he said. “And living in Canada, it’s not too much different from living in Finland.”
Maatta also said his English improved dramatically in just his one year here, saying that “I studied 10 years before coming here. But you know what, I’ve improved at least two times over since I’ve been here this one year from the whole time I studied it. “
And everything came together for Maatta during London’s lengthy playoff run, as he ranked tied for first in team scoring with six goals and 23 points through 19 games after posting five goals and 32 points during 58 regular-season games (which led all Knights defensemen and earned Maatta a spot on the OHL First-Team All-Rookie squad).
Maatta played all situations for the Knights – power play, penalty kill and, of course, 5-on-5.
“I really felt comfortable in the playoffs,” he said. “I like the game here. Just the tempo and the speed here, I think it fits well with me. I really like that.”
What also might have helped Maatta shine on such a big stage was his experience at an international level.
He’s one of the rare prospects to have played in two World Junior Championships before the draft, becoming the first player since 1998 to represent Finland in the tournament at the age of 16 in 2011.
And while his 2012 tournament was cut short due to injury, Maatta said representing his country at that level is something that’s helped his growth dramatically.
“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I got to play in games against guys 3, 4 years older. It helped me a lot with my career thus far.”
Maatta’s joy at being part of an organization like the Penguins has been evident since he first addressed the media shortly after being drafted in the arena and city that he’ll play in someday.
He’s expressed his amazement with the Penguins’ gorgeous facilities at CONSOL Energy Center, saying “it’s a new rink, so I don’t know what else to hope for. It’s unbelievable here. The town itself, it’s great.”
Maatta, who went and visited the official team store to get caps and shirts for his friends back home in Finland during draft weekend, also joked that “you could almost kind of live there, if you want to sleep over. Just go ahead."
Being drafted and attending his first-ever prospect development camp last week has been an eye-opener for this teenager, who’s going to do everything he can to make sure he gets here.
“I really feel like I have to get (my skating) better to make it to the NHL,” he said. “Just overall strength too. And just every day at practice, to be there every day and do your best. Just put 100 percent on the ice. That’s what I learned and what I want to bring back to London.”