Going into this season, Olli Maatta was under heavy fire from some as he struggled at key points last season. He also battled injury, but when he came back, his skating looked worse than it did before the injury. Even before his injury, his speed was an issue. There was plenty of speculation that he could be used as trade bait to get someone such as Matt Duchene, or another third line centre. It certainly seems like the Pittsburgh Penguins made the correct decision by keeping him. Early in the season, Maatta’s redemption tour has taken off.
Olli Maatta’s Redemption Tour in Full Effect
Maatta’s skating is greatly improved and this has been a bigger factor in his impressive start to the season. He is no longer losing those one-on-one battles like he did consistently during the playoffs. The biggest example of that came when Maatta had a step on Bobby Ryan and lost it badly in game one of the Eastern Conference Final.
He is much faster at to getting to loose pucks and moving them out of the zone. He also hasn’t been hemmed in his own zone too much this year, unlike last season. He was on the ice a lot during the playoffs when the Capitals were really pressuring the Penguins in their zone. There were times when Maatta clearly did not look comfortable on the ice. A healthy off-season and plenty of work have done wonders for many players skating, and Maatta is no different. He looks as fast as he was his rookie year his previous best season.
Some of the numbers that Maatta has put up through 13 games has simply been remarkable. For starters, his 5V5 points per 60 is 2.00. This is not likely to stay this high, but it speaks volumes to how good he has been early in the campaign. His assists per 60 is also at 1.50 while his 5V5 goals per 60 is 0.50. His previous best 5V5 points per 60 came during his rookie season when he played with Matt Niskanen. It ended up being 1.21 and he hasn’t come near to doing that since.
He scored the second goal of the Penguins season here with a nice slap shot:
He also blew a shot past Juuse Saros for his second goal of the season in a rematch against the Predators:
Possession wise, he’s hovering at 49.4% for CF% which is already higher than last year as well. He started out the season with a six-game point streak which lasted from the game against the Nashville Predators all the way until the game against the Florida Panthers on October 20th. Since then, he’s been pointless, though the Penguins have had some dud performances during that stretch. Overall, he has eight points in 13 games and he’s already surpassed the seven points he had all of the last season. He has a great chance of getting past his career high of 29 points that he set back in his rookie season if he keeps this level of play up.
To say that Maatta has been the best Penguins defenseman this season would be an understatement. Kris Letang has struggled since coming back from neck surgery when he missed half of last season and Justin Schultz and Matt Hunwick are still on IR. Brian Dumoulin, of course, has been outstanding defensively but he’s pointless in 13 games and is going to have to start producing at least some points soon.
Maatta may be moved up to the top pairing to help Letang snap out of his funk and Maatta deserves those minutes after the start he’s had. If Maatta can continue this bounce-back season, he’ll help the Penguins more than ever as they look to win their third Stanley Cup in a row.
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