Rossi: Partnership with Letang awaits Pens' young star Maatta
Ray Shero has found wingers for captain Sidney Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin.
Now it appears he has taken care of Kris Letang, the Penguins' back-end pillar.
Olli Maatta will be for Letang what Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are for Crosby, what James Neal is for Evgeni Malkin: the fit, the partner, The Guy.
Coaches see that happening as soon as next season. Management sees a Maatta-Letang pairing as the Penguins' version of what Ryan Suter-Shea Weber was for Nashville, what Weber and rookie Seth Jones will be for the Predators.
Letang noted this week he has never had a permanent partner.
Shero has long sought one. That was behind his free-agent pursuits of Dan Hamhuis (2010) and Suter (2012).
Shero was mostly schooled in the art of general managing by David Poile, under whom he worked while in Nashville. Poile, during his runs with Washington and Nashville, has built from the blue line out — and most often his clubs have achieved success on the strength of a deep defense corps anchored by a top pairing of elite players.
It is part of Shero's DNA to construct a dominant defense.
That is why Penguins ownership's decision seven years ago to hand him the keys to an organization blessed with Crosby and Malkin made total sense. Within three years of taking control of the Penguins' hockey operations, Shero had transformed the blue line into one that could go nine players deep on a run to the Stanley Cup.
That ninth player, Alex Goligoski, was such a prized young player that Shero traded him for Neal and Matt Niskanen.
Shero has spent the past three years attempting to build another Cup champion by rebuilding a defense corps to match the Penguins' awesome offensive arsenal.
He has taken all available avenues: free agency (Paul Martin, 2010, and Rob Scuderi, 2013); trades (Niskanen, 2011); and keeping his own (Letang, 2013). Shero also has drafted defensively: four first- or second-round picks used on defensemen since 2011.
Maatta was part of a 2012 NHL Entry Draft opening day that may go down as Shero's Hall of Fame thesis. On June 22, 2012, Shero acquired Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Harrison Ruopp — four defensemen who, barring trades, could be playing regularly for the Penguins in two years.
Pouliot, the eighth overall draft pick, was viewed by outsiders as the great get because of his offensive upside.
Maatta, the 22nd pick, was viewed by Penguins brass as a potential franchise defenseman because of his two-way play.
It is early, but Maatta looks like that kind of player.
Letang thinks so. It is why he spent the past two months lobbying coaches to keep Maatta instead of returning him to junior hockey.
“He can't develop better there,” Letang said. “He needs to play in the NHL. He is more ready than I was at his age. He needs to be here against the best players, around our coaches, because that will make him the player he can be.”
Letang is convinced Maatta will become an elite player.
Shero has been looking for one of those for Letang, to whom he recently committed $58 million for the next eight years.
Shero's view of Letang has always been the sky is the limit.
“Kris is a very good player, and his best days are ahead of him,” Shero said. “I think he'll probably win the Norris Trophy. He is that kind of player for us.”
Imagine what Letang will do with Maatta.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Letang leaves hospital, out with concussion
- Penguins slip past Sharks, 3-2, in shootout
- Penguins notebook: Johnston stays with team despite mother’s death
- Penguins notebook: Five defensemen dress against San Jose
- Penguins minor league notebook: WBS players eager for possible NHL playoff call-up
- Hit sends Penguins’ Letang to hospital
- Players respect coach, refuse to blame Johnston
- Penguins notebook: Malkin likely to return Saturday
- Penguins defensemen Letang, Martin embrace heavy workload
- Penguins notebook: Adams says fight was to counter Blues’ brutish tactics
- Penguins’ protracted slump continues with 5-2 loss at Carolina