Penguins believe defenseman Maatta deserves top rookie consideration
History says Olli Maatta has little chance to win the Calder Trophy.
His teammates believe he should be strongly considered.
Maatta, the smooth 19-year-old defenseman whose two-way game has blown away the Penguins' coaching staff and his teammates, enters Thursday's game in Los Angeles on quite a roll.
He also plays in a league that has given the Calder Trophy — awarded annually to the league's best rookie — to a defenseman just 10 times in nine decades.
“The biggest reason it hasn't happened more is because it's rare to establish yourself at a young age at this position,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “It's harder for defensemen.”
Maatta, though, continues to make believers out of the Penguins. He has 19 points and is a plus-10 through 52 games while being called for only six minor penalties.
“He absolutely deserves consideration,” Martin said. “That's how good he's been.”
His solid early play was only an appetizer to Maatta's dependable work while the Penguins played without five defensemen for a lengthy stretch in December, putting him on the top pairing against some of the game's best.
And now, the offensive facets of his game are blossoming. Maatta has produced two goals and five assists — none of which have been aided by the power play — during his past 10 games.
“The last time I saw a rookie defenseman have this kind of an impact was Rob Blake with the Kings (during the 1990-'91 season),” assistant coach Tony Granato said. “We've asked him to do more than we ever ask rookies to do: top unit, playing against the top players, killing penalties, playing the power play.
“And he does it all so well. He's like no rookie I've ever seen. It's a remarkable thing.”
Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, leads all rookies with 35 points. Others, such as Florida's Aleksander Barkov, San Jose's Tomas Hertl, and even a trio of productive defensemen — Boston's Torey Krug, Anaheim's Hampus Lindholm and Nashville's Seth Jones — have impressed.
The Penguins believe Maatta's steady play has gone overlooked.
“I don't follow other players around the league and their numbers all that much,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who regularly is paired with Maatta. “But I know this: I know how good Olli has been this year, and I know what he's done.
“It's easier for forwards. Maybe putting up huge numbers isn't easy, but you have to consider what Olli's been asked to do. And he keeps getting better.”
Maatta's humble attitude made him a hit in the locker room.
“I don't care about personal awards,” Maatta said. “I really, really don't. My dream is to win a Stanley Cup. That's what I want to do.”
Maatta probably has a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup than the Calder Trophy. Of the 10 defensemen to win the award, five are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Then again, no one is putting anything past Maatta.
“He's in a groove right now,” Niskanen said. “He wants the puck. And when someone that talented wants the puck, that's a good thing for us.”
Granato made it clear Maatta will receive every opportunity to showcase his talent.
“This league is so hard,” Granato said. “And he's making it look so easy. He amazes me.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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.
- New Penguins coach to meet with Malkin
- Hollidaysburg native Lafferty relishing his chance with Penguins
- Q&A: New coach Johnston feeling at home with Penguins
- Penguins assistant Martin gets new job title
- Rossi: Johnston must reach Malkin in Moscow
- Recchi rejoins Pens, this time as a coach
- Pens hope to reach long-term deal with Brandon Sutter
- Young Penguins defensemen hope to make impact at NHL level
- Despite management change, familiarity reigns for Penguins prospects
- Penguins sign Despres to 2-year deal