Last season at the 2011 NHL Draft, general manager Ray Shero announced that the Penguins had selected Joe Morrow from the Portland Winterhawks with the No. 23 pick, and later Scott Harrington from the London Knights with the No. 54 pick.
Fast forward to 2012. After landing the eighth pick, along with their current 22nd pick, Shero and the Penguins decided to go again with a defensemen from Portland’s and London’s abundant crop of prospects
With scouts around keeping a watchful eye on the two budding prospects for the Penguins, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta were two that stood out in the crowd in the minds of the Penguins brass.
“We really liked Derrick, our guys had seen him a lot,” Shero said. “We really feel that he’s a really good skater, really good offensive capabilities, a power-play quarterback of the future. So yeah, playing with Joe Morrow out in Portland, our first round pick from last year, our guys really liked him.”
Shero echoed the same praise for his second choice of the first round, Maatta, who was considered a top-15 pick by many but slid to the Penguins in the 22nd slot. Shero did acknowledge though the coincidence that the Finnish blueliner and Harrington are teammates like Pouliot and Morrow.
“I don’t know, it just happens maybe,” Shero explained. “Maatta was a guy we liked. Big kid, Finnish kid playing on a good team in London. He had a great year, going to the World Cup Final, he was a big part of that. He’s just another real young asset on defense that comes into our group. I think he’s a real good addition as well.”
From the Winterhawks, Pouliot and Morrow helped form one of the strongest defensive cores in the Canadian Hockey League. A group that had three former draft picks already established, Pouliot and Morrow combined for 123 points (28G-95A), leading a team that went to the Western Hockey League Final, before falling to the Edmonton Oil Kings in seven games.
“I’ve heard all good things from Joe,” Pouliot said about Pittsburgh. “He really likes it here, (including) the staff and everybody. I’m really excited to be a part of that and looking forward to it.”
While the two were hardly paired together, they each played an important role on the Winterhawks power play, combining for 17 power-play goals throughout the season. For Pouliot, he believed having Morrow on the team really could have given the Penguins a good idea of what type of player he was.
“Yeah, definitely. It could have helped,” Pouliot said. “He could have told him what I was capable of. Them coming to see him a lot probably helped a little bit.”
With Harrington now on his side with the Penguins, Maatta gets to continue what is becoming a strong relationship with his teammate. When Maatta came from Finland for his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, Harrington was a guide for him during the transition process.
“He was one of the reasons why my adjustment to London was so easy,” Maatta said. “He helped me a lot, helped me with getting used to the game there and the life there.”
The blueliners became the building block of the defensive foundation for the OHL champion Knights. The two had become so close, they would kid about eventually playing together later after juniors.
“We were making jokes about it last year, actually. And now it happened, so it’s kind of funny,” Maatta said. “We talked about it, how it would be fun to play with him. He actually has told me a lot about the combine and the draft itself. He’s been a big help for me.”
It’s rare for something like this to happen. It might be safe to say it’s an anomaly. But after today, these pair of teammates will begin their journey again together at the Penguins development camp, where they all will be competing for a coveted spot along the blue line for the Pittsburgh Penguins.