The Pittsburgh Penguins have two cornerstones on their blue line locked into long-terms deals with Kris Letang
and Olli Maatta
each signed through the 2021-22 season.
The Pens announced Maatta’s six-year contract extension Friday morning.
But history could have turned out much differently for both Maatta and the Pens. Pittsburgh almost chose a different prospect with their pick. Here’s how the story went down.
Entering the 2012 NHL Draft, which was held at CONSOL Energy Center, the Pens had two defensemen very highly ranked on their board. Derrick Pouliot was ranked 4th overall on the team’s board, while Maatta was positioned at 6th.
“We thought that highly of (Maatta),” said Pens director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton.
The Pens held the 22nd overall pick in the draft, so nabbing either Pouliot or Maatta was highly unlikely as the day began.
The Pens pulled off a blockbuster trade, sending center Jordan Staal to Carolina in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the eighth-overall selection in the draft.
Both Pouliot and Maatta were still on the board. The team took Pouliot, who was the top player on their draft board that was still available.
As time neared for the Pens to make their second pick of the first round, they had two options.
“Our guys were saying, ‘Randy, who’s up next?’” Sexton recalled. “I said it’s going to be (prospect) or Olli Maatta. And they said, ‘another defenseman?’”
After all, the Pens had just acquired two blue chip defensive prospects in Pouliot and Dumoulin. And the year prior they drafted Joe Morrow and Scott Harrington in the first and second rounds respectively. They also had Simon Despres (first round) and Philip Samuelsson (second round) from the 2009 class.
“The next guy on our (draft) list was a forward, but there’s such a significant drop-off between Olli and that player, we would be foolish and it would have been a mistake,” Sexton said. “I said, we are taking another defenseman and we should be grateful if we get Maatta because this kid is a tremendous player.”
After some discussion then general manager Ray Shero sided with Sexton and the Pens’ took the young Finish prospect with their selection.
One year later, Maatta would make the Pens’ roster at just 19 years old and hasn’t looked back since.
“Olli was so strong defensively and so smart defensively,” Sexton said. “It was easier for him to kind of move into the rotation because of his size and his sense and his skating. He was in more of a defensive role when he first broke into the league.”
And whatever happened to that forward that the Pens could have taken instead of Maatta?
“He’s still in the American League and based upon our pro scouting reports, it’s a 50-50 that he’ll play in the league,” Sexton said. “It’s one of those one situations that works out for you.”