[Photo Credit: Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Olli Maatta may not be able to go into a bar in downtown Pittsburgh and order an Iron City quite yet, but he has been one of the main reasons why the Penguins have continued their winning ways despite a laundry list of injuries.
The Finnish defenseman was the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Penguins, but he surely couldn't have imagined the role he would be playing at this point in the 2013-14 season.
Paired with Matt Niskanen, who is seemingly the only veteran defenseman the Penguins have left on the roster, Maatta hasn't looked like a 19 year old rookie still trying to grab his bearings in the NHL.
Moreover, he didn't have a few years in the minors to prepare himself for the final step. Maatta only played three games with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins in the AHL before being called up to the main roster.
In his last three games, Maatta has 74:31 minutes of ice time. To compare that with some of the NHL's top defensemen, Zdeno Chara has 70:27 and Duncan Keith has logged 71:15 over the last three games.
The Pens have been without Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin and Deryk Engelland was recently suspended for five games, yet the defense hasn't floundered thanks to Maatta.
There is still room for improvement, as displayed by the New York Rangers second goal on Wednesday night when Maatta forced a driving John Moore to the middle as opposed to taking away the inside lane and forcing him out, but it's impossible to expect perfection from someone who just turned 19 years old four months ago.
The Penguins are 9-1-0 in their last ten games, and 13-2-1 in the last 30 days. Considering that nearly half of the current roster is made up of AHL players, that's not bad.
The difficult decision is going to be what to do with Maatta once their defensive core is healthy. Do you keep him around or send him back to the AHL? It's something to ponder, but for now, he isn't going anywhere.
The Penguins (25-10-1) host the Minnesota Wild (20-11-5) tonight at the Consol Energy Center, and expect to see a whole lot of #3 on the ice for the black and gold again tonight.
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- Pittsburgh Penguins Trim Roster to 32 Players; Send Kuhnhackl, Ruopp, and Farnham Down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
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