Multiple outlets are reporting that the Pittsburgh Penguins do not plan to return prospect defenseman Olli Maatta to juniors at the conclusion of his 9 game tryout period.
Olli Maatta has made the Pittsburgh Penguins against all odds. Maatta’s talent was never in question, but his ability to play well right away and shoot through the ranks of a very deep defense pool was. Maatta obliterated his opportunity. The kid has played with poise and has been sound positionally. Maatta carried himself with the demeanor of a 10 year vet while trying to learn the ropes of the NHL. He also must be playing with some confidence as evidence by how he jumped into the 3 on 2 rush which led to his first career NHL goal.
On that 3 on 2 rush Maatta made a very under the radar play to open up the passing lane (h/t @MikeDarnay)
So now that Maatta appears to be part of the big picture for this NHL season what are the consequences (positive or negative) of keeping Maatta up?
Personally I do not see any negative consequences. Some may argue that playing a full season might be too much for him, but I say he has to do it at some point.
One of the perceived negative consequences is that this will start his entry level contract and will get him to restricted free agency sooner where he can ask for more money. I don’t personally have a problem with this because if Maatta keeps developing and becomes a great player I would have no problem paying him. It seems like a pretty good problem to have. Maatta would not be due a mega contract like the one Kris Letang received until he is able to test unrestricted free agency. The cap is going to keep going up and players like Orpik and Martin could be expendable based on Maatta’s development.
Everybody knows about the importance of Maatta playing past 9 games for the Penguins but an underreported figure will have an impact as well. Apparently there is a 40 game mark that is important as well. Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune explains
The number with more meaning for the Penguins regarding Maatta is 40, sources said.
That is the number of games in which Maatta can play for this to count as an accrued season. Playing an accrued season could allow Maatta to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season, when Maatta would be 25.
Again, a non issue. Crosby and Malkin are only going to be in their primes once; I can’t say I am overly concerned with what happens 6-7 years from now.
The Penguins can always send Maatta back to London if they feel they have made a mistake. The consequence to that would be that Maatta could not be recalled until after the entire London Knights season has concluded. If the Penguins felt Maatta needed to be sent down I doubt they would have a reason to call him back up. I do not see Maatta being sent down so it is a non issue.
So what does Maatta’s promotion mean to the rest of the Penguins roster? It means there are going to be some people who have been playing regularly that will not be playing when Letang gets back. There is no room for Deryk Engelland to play defense for the Pittsburgh Penguins anymore. This was made abundantly clear when he was moved to wing, and that was before Letang came back. In fact there is not going to be a spot for Deryk Engelland on the penguins at any position. Beau Bennett and Matt D’Agostini will be back in the lineup soon and I would hope that means that the Penguins will not have to use an 8th defenseman on the 4th line anymore.
Some may say now is the time to trade Matt Niskanen. I say no way. The only issue with Niskanen entering the season was salary cap related. Clearly the Penguins management team has found a way to keep Niskanen and move forward with him on the active roster. Niskanen has played great with Rob Scuderi while taking on the hard minutes. Rob Scuderi deserves a lot of credit for that but when Letang comes back Niskanen will be in the bottom pairing. Not too many NHL teams can boast a bottom pairing which has a player who played top 4 defense minutes for a conference finalist the year before. That is great depth. You don’t just trade that depth for the sake of trading it. A bottom pairing of Niskanen Maatta is not a bottom pairing at all.
Maatta’s earning of a roster spot clearly affects Robert Bortuzzo’s status. Bortuzzo has played incredibly well in the role that he has been given this year. It’s never fun to see a player who has done nothing wrong get demoted, but so is professional sports. Bortuzzo appears primed to be the 7th defenseman and he will have to work hard to be ready on a moment’s notice for the entire year. It stinks for him but these kinds of things happen on the roster of a Stanley Cup contender.
Bortuzzo’s strong play with Maatta this year is evident through statistics. Here are Olli Maata’s statistics at even strength when playing with Bortuzzo, and with Engelland
We can see that Deryk Engelland has had quite the negative effect on Maatta, while Bortuzzo and Maatta have played quite well together at even strength.
Even though Maatta and Bortuzzo have shown to be a solid pairing, just digest these numbers from Matt Niskanen:
Niskanen’s GF% at even strength is 84.6% and his CF% is 56.1%. I think Maatta is going to do just fine with Matt Niskanen as his partner.
The Penguins now have two players in their bottom pairing who are capable of playing solid defense but also will be able to provide offense from the back end. Both players are candidates for the 2nd power play unit.
The Penguins have turned what was a perceived weakness last year (defense) and quite possibly turned it into a strength this year with the additions of Scuderi, Maatta, Bortuzzo, and Jacques Martin. Nobody can argue that Fleury is not seeing the benefits of those changes early on.
Congratulations to Olli Maatta on making the Pittsburgh Penguins, Penguin fans will enjoy watching him for a long long time.
Thanks for reading!