A year later, Penguins are pleased with drafted defensemen Maatta, Pouliot

| Monday, July 1, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero insists that his preference is not to trade star defenseman Kris Letang.

If Shero is forced to deal Letang, who has just one year remaining on his contract, he will do so with the knowledge that more potential stars are in his franchise's pipeline.

Defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta are on their way.

“Looking back at last year,” Shero said, “yeah, I'm pretty happy with those two. I think we did very well.”

It remains to be seen when Pouliot and Maatta will make an impact with the Penguins. Both are eligible to return to their junior teams next season, and it is unlikely either will play in the NHL during the 2013-14 season.

But the organization is convinced both will make an impact at some point.

The Penguins believe those two represent a significant portion of their future.

Pouliot was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft. That pick belonged to the Penguins only for a few moments before they made the selection; the Carolina Hurricanes had just parted with it as part of the Jordan Staal trade.

Pouliot, viewed as a pure power-play quarterback, has drawn comparisons to Florida's Brian Campbell and could project as an offensive star.

“We really like how Pouliot can work the power play,” Shero said. “He's just got that great vision.”

Pouliot produced 45 points in 44 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL last season and has averaged nearly a point per game during his past two seasons. He is in the mold of past and present Penguins defensemen — Ryan Whitney, Alex Goligoski and Letang — who excel in the transition game and in the offensive zone.

While Pouliot is considered by many the top prospect in the Penguins' organization, he isn't on the rise like Maatta.

The Penguins acquired Maatta with the 22nd overall selection.

Maatta was considered a top-15 player in the draft, and, in fact, the Penguins had him pegged to be selected long before their 22nd pick.

When he was there, it didn't take them long to race to the podium.

“At 22,” Shero said, “that was a really solid pick.”

Randy Sexton, the Penguins' assistant director of amateur scouting, is pleased with Maatta's progress.

Maatta has emerged as a star, playing alongside another key Penguins prospect in defenseman Scott Harrington, for the Ontario Hockey League powerhouse London Knights.

“Obviously we couldn't have forecasted that Maatta was still going to be there with the 22nd pick,” Sexton said. “It's just that every team has a different philosophy to the draft, so you never really know what might happen. We were happy to get him there, that's for sure.”

Maatta produced 39 points in 58 games while logging huge minutes at London. He and Harrington have become shutdown defensemen under the tutelage of coach Dale Hunter in London.

Although Maatta played three games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL playoffs, at 18 he remains eligible to play in London next season.

“We are delighted with Olli,” Sexton said.

Shero won't project when the duo will be ready for the NHL but remains pleased. Maatta and Pouliot will be present when the Penguins host their rookie camp this month.

“That's going to be a big camp for them,” Shero said. “I love what I see right now.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Twitter.

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