The question on whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to keep 19-year-old Olli Maatta for the entire season was finally answered, as general manager Ray Shero announced today that they would indeed keep the rookie defenseman past the nine game ‘threshold.’
As per the agreement between the NHL and Hockey Canada, there is an age restriction on playing in the AHL, and if that player isn’t of age, he must be returned to his Major Junior team instead.
Playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, Maatta was part of this rule, so if the Penguins did not plan on keeping him in the NHL, they would have to return him to the Knights. Under the same set of rules, he was allowed to play nine games before the first year of his entry level contract was used up.
The Colorado Avalanche game was No. 9, and the New York Islanders game will be No. 10, a number that he has certainly earned. Maatta has been one of the more consistent defenders on the blue line for the Pens.
Rarely out of position and showing instincts far beyond his years, Maatta will now have to fight for every second of ice time with the pending return of Kris Letang. His return will slide everyone down a notch on the defensive ladder, but even as the potential sixth defender, he has earned this chance to continue his season with the big club.
But his hockey smarts and rapid progression could land him higher on the depth chart, maybe even becoming the most ideal defensive partner for Letang.
Maatta will be a major piece of the Penguins’ plans in the future, and will now be a part of the team’s present. The Penguins made the right choice in keeping Maatta, rewarding a player for their hard work and success; the Penguins are so deep at defense they could have sent him to juniors and not been crippled.
This move could also makes Maatta an unrestricted free agent a year earlier, something that was certainly kept in mind when deciding whether or not they will keep him. The Penguins could keep that from happening by not letting Maatta play in 40 games, but at this point, Maatta will be here to stay.
The Penguins have invested a lot of top round draft picks on defenseman, and it looks like Maatta will be the first to shine on the biggest stage. With more to follow, the future is bright on the blue line for Pittsburgh.
Anthony Murphy is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AMurphyTFC.