In a span of about 11 months, London Knights rearguard Olli Maatta has gone from a work-in-progress at the OHL level to an NHL signee.
“It’s a big thing to me to sign an NHL contract,” the 18-year-old Finn told Metro after practice at the Western Fair Sports Centre on Wednesday, hours after his three-year entry-level with the Pittsburgh Penguins became official.
“It’s the next step. But, it’s not over yet. I still have a lot of things to get used to here.”
Selected 22nd overall by the Penguins in June’s draft, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound blueliner joins Knights teammate Scott Harrington in the club’s system.
“It’s a really good thing we have,” Maatta said of Harrington. “He’s been a big help to me.”
At the start of the 2011-12 OHL season, Maatta experienced the usual growing pains associated with import players. A muffed pass here, missed assignment there; he simply wasn’t accustomed to the intricacies of North American hockey.
Fast forward to the Knights’ unexpected Memorial Cup run, and there’s a different Maatta: Cool as a cucumber, leading the OHL playoffs in rookie scoring.
“He’s a motivated kid — at practice, in games, and off the ice — that obviously wants to be an NHL hockey player. He works his tail off every day,” said London head coach, Dale Hunter.
Hunter adds there were times last season when Maatta’s utter determination caused minor concern, saying, “We needed to tell him he has to get some rest because he was pushing the limits too often.”
The way the Finland native views it, logging an extra 10 to 15 minutes after a practice to work on his one-timer was the only way to shake off some early season rust.
“It’s really tough to play three-game weekends, but I know what to expect now,” he said.
In the upcoming campaign, Maatta’s workload will not only consist of top pairing minutes with London, but also a monumental role on Finland’s under-20 squad. Barring injury, the 2013 world junior hockey championship will be his fifth appearance as a member of the national team, and third at the world juniors.
London stocked with NHL prospects
- *Olli Maatta, D — Pittsburgh Penguins (1st round, 2012 NHL draft)
- Chris Tierney, C — San Jose Sharks (2nd, 2012)
- Josh Anderson, W — Columbus Blue Jackets (4th, 2012)
- Seth Griffith, W – Boston Bruins (5th, 2012)
- Ryan Rupert, C — Toronto Maple Leafs (6th, 2012)
- *Scott Harrington, D —Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd, 2011)
- Alex Broadhurst, C — Chicago Blackhawks (7th, 2011)
* — signed to entry-level contract
*This post also appears in Metro London’s Sept. 13 print edition