When Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta found out he would be playing in the team’s regular-season opener on Oct. 3, like any 19-year old rookie making his NHL debut, nerves began to set in.
Luckily for Finland native Maatta, teammate and fellow countryman Jussi Jokinen was there to calm his nerves.
“Before (Thursday) night’s game, he told me to enjoy it because you don’t have another first game,” Maatta said.
The words of wisdom from Jokinen, 30, are just a small glimpse into the mentoring the Finnish winger has done for Maatta to help him acclimate to life as a professional in both the NHL and in Pittsburgh.
“First of all you need to remember he is 19 years old,” Jokinen said. “It is pretty remarkable how good he is by 19, how mature he is. Obviously when I got to camp I wanted to make sure I got him to be as comfortable as possible. I watched him the first couple of weeks, and he didn’t need much advice. I just told him to enjoying playing your game and that is going to be good in this league.”
Eight years before Maatta cracked the opening-night lineup, Jokinen made a similar journey to North America – joining the Dallas Stars for the 2005-06 season after playing professionally in Finland for years.
Jokinen said the transition Maatta made from Finland to London, Ontario at age 16 to become a member of the OHL’s London Knights has allowed him to become more accustomed to the culture, and faster.
“I was 22 years old when I got over here, and you need to remember he was 16 when he got to London,” Jokinen said. “He has been there two years and I think you can see the difference right away. If he was 19 years old coming right to North America there would be lots of new things, but he has been here two years already and is really comfortable with the language and all the other things. It’s been fun to watch and he is a great player, and an even better guy off the ice.”
Maatta had visited Pittsburgh twice for the Penguins annual prospect development camp in July prior to training camp this year, but he said no one has helped get used to the Penguins system more than Jokinen.
“He has been a big part of helping me get used to the system on the ice and then helping me get used to the style of living here,” Maatta said. “He is helping me a lot with what is going on, with rules and just how to live here. He has been a big help.”
Whether or not Maatta will remain on the roster after his nine-game window or be sent back to London for the season remains to be seen. Regardless, his fellow countryman has been impressed with what he has seen thus far.
“He has been great,” Jokinen said. “And I think he is only going to get better every day.”