Whatever it is, Olli Maatta has it.
Speed? Check. Hands? Check. Hockey Sense? Double-check. At only 19, Maatta already looks poised to develop into the National Hockey League’s next great puck-moving defenseman. In fact, I don’t think the Penguins have had a prospect look so poised and NHL-ready in his first year since Sidney Crosby was a rookie in 2005-2006.
If you wanted to pick one game to showcase just how big of an impact Maatta is making on the Pens this season, look no further than their most recent tilt with the Capitals on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Late in the third, Pittsburgh found itself still tied with the Capitals after clawing it’s way back from a 3-2 deficit with less than half the period left. The game looked destined for overtime, until Maatta showed up.
After taking a great feed from Evgeni Malkin, Maatta could have done what most young defenseman would have done in that situation: try to blast a hard one-timer through a sea of bodies in front of the net. Had he done that, the shot most-likely would have been blocked or deflected by a Capitals player away from the net and out of harms way. Instead, Maatta pauses and fakes the shot from the point. As a result, Joel Ward is completely thrown off balance, which opens up the shooting lane down low from Maatta, allowing him to skate in and pinpoint a perfect shot through several bodies and into the net.
It was yet another example of Maatta’s amazing vision and hockey sense, characteristics that, when you put them on a 19-year old rookie, make them all the more incredible.
Olli Maatta has played in 47 games this season, tied for second-most among all rookie defenseman. In those 47 games, he has compiled an impressive stat line of four goals and 12 assists for 16 points, a mark that puts him at fifth overall among fellow first year blue-liners. His +8 rating also leaves him sitting fourth highest. All impressive stats for someone barely old enough to vote.
Couple this with the fact that he averages over 17 minutes of ice time per night, and you’ve got the foundations for one hell of a rookie season, one that has made everyone around him take notice.
Sometimes people have a habit of over valuing or placing unreasonable expectations on young players, especially defenseman, after a great rookie year. After all, remember how good Tyler Myers was three years ago? They get crushed under the weight of expectations when they regress to average or below average play, and often times have a hard time digging themselves out of that funk.
In all seriousness, I don’t this will be the case with Maatta. Could he struggle from time to time? Sure, all young players do. However, after having watched him in 47 games this year, it’s clear that he already has the maturity and acumen of a ten-year veteran, a characteristic that has already drawn him comparisons to Nick Lindstrom.
And while that may be a bit lofty, one can’t deny the similarities in their games, even with such a small sample size as Maatta’s.
Either way you slice it, the future looks bright for Olli Maatta.