It’s been quite a season for 19-year-old Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta. He’s the first rookie defenseman in more than 70 years to score on a penalty shot helping his Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild Thursday night.
Maatta did it shorthanded midway through the third period with the Pens nursing a two-goal lead. The last rookie defenseman to score on a penalty shot was Toronto’s Bob Goldham on March 7, 1942. The last defenseman to score shorthanded on a penalty shot was Nashville’s Kimmo Timonen Nov. 18, 1999.
In Pittsburgh Thursday, the Pens were on a 5-on-3 man disadvantage when Pittsburgh rookie Zach Sill spotted Maatta coming out of the penalty box and lofted the puck down the center of the ice. Maatta collected it, went in on Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom, but was interfered by Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, seen at the 3:30 mark in this video.
On the penalty shot, Maatta went in on the right side, drifted left and shot stick side. Backstrom got most of the puck, but it trickled in behind him. Here’s another angle.
Maatta has been a revelation since making the Penguins as an underage junior. Drafted 22nd overall in 2012, Maatta still had a year of junior eligibility remaining and the OHL’s London’s Knight’s were hoping he’d be back this season.
Maatta wasn’t listed among the top dozen players on Pittsburgh’s blueline depth chart in The Hockey News Yearbook and Ultimate Pool Guide before training camp. That’s because the Penguins had veterans Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Matt Niskanen, Simon Depres and Deryk Engelland.
And among Pittsburgh blueline prospects, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson and Brendan Mikkelson were considered more NHL-ready. What’s more, recent first and second round Penguins draft picks Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington are older than Maatta.
But Maatta made the Penguins right out of camp and is one of just two Pittsburgh blueliners (Niskanen is the other) to have played every game. He’s averaged 17:26 of ice time, but he has been over 20 minutes six of the past eight games, including a season-high 28:06 Wednesday against the Rangers.
Although he doesn't have staggering offensive numbers, this rookie is playing himself into Calder Trophy consideration. He's not on Ryan Kennedy's top 10 list, but he's getting close.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN