The Pittsburgh Penguins have a decision to make that could affect both the present and the future of their organization. When a player is too young to play in the AHL, a team must either keep him on send him back to his junior league team. That player can play in nine games without a year of his entry-level contract is burnt. Once the player hits 10 games played, they lose one year of their contract, so the team might has well keep that player with the team the rest of the season.
This is the decision the Pens must make on their 19-year-old defenseman Olli Maatta. After a more-than-impressive beginning to his NHL career, Maatta has given the Penguins more than enough reasons to keep him on the NHL roster for the entire season. Despite having one of the deepest defensive groups in the league, Maatta has stuck out like a sore thumb, in the best of ways.
Positionally sound, and making hockey decisions like he has been in the NHL for a decade, Maatta, to some, has earned his shot with Pittsburgh. The only thing keeping the Penguins from forcefully having to make a decision is the fact that last year’s Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang has been out since the start of the decision.
The question of whether or not Maatta would have gotten the chance had Letang never got injured is neither here nor there, the question is what will the Penguins do going forward? They kept eight defenders last season, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to keep eight going forward when Letang gets back.
What the Penguins must decide is if keeping Maatta is worth burning the contract year. If the Penguins feel that Maatta is one of the top-six defenseman in their system that gives them the best chance to win the ultimate prize, then this is a no-doubter. If he isn’t a player they feel can play and contribute each and every night, they need to save a year on his contract and let him take over a role next season when Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin possibly move on.
What will they do? The Penguins play their ninth game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche, and their 10th against the New York Islanders. Don’t be surprised if they take every second possible to examine the now, and future when it comes to Maatta.
Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.