|London Knights blueliner Olli Maatta, a native of Finland, is considered a top prospect in a 2012 NHL Draft heavy on talented defencemen. He played a big role in the Knights' run to the Memorial Cup final (CHL Images).
(Editor's note: This is one in a series of features about prospects who might possibly be available when the Ottawa Senators make the No. 15 selection of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 22-23 in Pittsburgh. Choices are based on rankings by several services, including NHL Central Scouting, but are not a reflection of Senators' internal scouting rankings).
Ask Olli Maatta to describe his game and his answer lands somewhere right down the middle.
"I'm an all-around D-man," said the Finnish blueliner, who toiled this season with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights. "I make good passes, but I'm solid in the D-zone."
But it's fair to say that some teams who consider Maatta with their first-round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft will be looking toward him to bring a stay-at-home presence to their blue line. However, the offensive touch he displayed during the Knights' run to the Memorial Cup belied such labelling.
"A lot of scouts find his game similar to that of Ryan Suter (of the Nashville Predators)," Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, said in defining the 17-year-old Maatta. "He's a calm, composed, puck-moving D-man."
London coach Mark Hunter went a step further, calling Maatta a "complete player" who reminds him of New York Rangers blueliner Michael Del Zotto, a first-rounder in 2008 and former Knight.
"He's got the offensive side of Del Zotto, but I think he plays better defence than Michael," Hunter told sportsnet.ca. "He plays all three zones, offence, defence."
The Knights thought so highly of Maatta, they traded up to take him first overall in last summer's Canadian Hockey League import draft — a lottery that also included Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who is widely expected to be a top-five pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, set for June 22-23 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
That paid off big time by season's end, when Maatta produced a team-high 23 points (6-17) during the Knights' march through the OHL playoffs to the Memorial Cup, where London lost the championship game in overtime to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
"It was perfect," Maatta told reporters at the recent NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto in describing his first foray into the OHL post-season. "One goal. That's all we needed. It was the longest season I've ever played ... I think it was the best team I've ever played with."
Maatta, a native in Jyvaskyla in the northern part of Finland, made waves in his homeland long before his arrival in North America. He suited up for the Finns at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at age 16, becoming the youngest in his country to earn that distinction. He also saw duty with his hometown team in Finland's second division before crossing the pond to join the Knights.
"He is unique to this year's draft class in that he played pro in Finland last year," said Marr. "That experience is evident in his game."
Working with the Knights also exposed the 6-2, 198-pound Maatta to former National Hockey League blueliner Rob Ramage, a member of the London coaching staff along with Mark and Dale Hunter (who started the season behind the Knights' bench before moving on to the NHL's Washington Capitals).
"Getting used to the game here, (Ramage) has been a big help for me," said Maatta, who grew up idolizing former NHL standout Teppo Numminen ("one of the best Finnish defenders of all time"). "It's a big adjustment to make it here. The game is more physical and Mark, Dale, Rammer ... they have helped me with it."
Some 22 teams interviewed Maatta at the NHL combine, a testament to the interest in his talents. Central Scouting rated him eighth among North American skaters in its final pre-draft rankings, while International Scouting Services has him 12th overall — three spots above the 15th pick owned by the Ottawa Senators.
Whoever lands him will get a player whose game continues to round itself out.
"The offensive part of his game has taken off," Mark Hunter told the London Free Press during the Memorial Cup. "He's big and strong, he plays both ends of the ice. He's been super in the second half."