With all he went through last season, it’s hard not to cheer for Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta. And that he’s battled through a series of early career injuries, including a cancerous tumor on his thyroid, to become a standout on the Penguins blueline makes the news of his signing of a six-year, $24.5-million contract extension even better.
Maatta, 21, was set to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, but the new deal will lock him up until the end of the 2021-22 season, coincidentally the same season defense partner Kris Letang will also see his deal expire. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Maatta’s contract includes a limited no-trade clause in the final two seasons. Maatta can pick eight teams he cannot be traded to.
Maatta’s $4.083-million cap hit is incredibly manageable for the Penguins and stands to look even better down the road. Maatta’s development has shown he can be a standout for the Penguins and at little more than $4 million, it should give Pittsburgh the ability to continue to add pieces while having their top pairing of Letang and Maatta locked up long-term.
Maatta is already a top-pairing defenseman in Pittsburgh after only three seasons in the league, and he has found a great fit atop the Penguins defensive depth chart alongside Letang. The pairing has been together for the majority of the season and Maatta’s steady defending has been the perfect compliment to Letang’s puck-moving, offensive-minded approach. Maatta’s defensive responsibility has made him a key part of the Penguins penalty killing units. He has averaged nearly two minutes of ice time per game down a man this season on Pittsburgh’s fifth-rated penalty kill.
Maatta being the defensive side of the pairing has helped Letang's production, too. Through 49 games, Letang has 45 points and is on pace for a 66-point year, which would be a career-best.
That’s not to say Maatta hasn’t contributed offensively, though. With six goals and 16 points, he’s third in scoring among Penguins blueliners and has the second-most points of any Pittsburgh defenseman since he made his debut in 2013-14. In 151 career games, Maatta has 16 goals and 54 points.
Drafted 22nd overall in 2012, Maatta wasted little time getting into the big league and was a full-time NHLer one year after being selected by the Penguins. That’s an impressive enough feat for a blueliner, but he slotted in as a top-four defenseman almost immediately. By season’s end, he had scored nine goals and 29 points in 78 games, good for a fifth-place finish in Calder Trophy voting.
All but 20 games of Maatta’s sophomore season were wiped out following a six-game absence due to the thyroid tumor and another 56 regular season contests on the shelf due to an upper-body injury. Maatta lost another six games this season to injury, but he continues to impress for the Penguins when healthy. If he keeps it up, Maatta's deal could look like a steal for Pittsburgh as early as next season.