Tag: Olli Maatta

St. Louis Blues v Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh’s biggest question: Is the defense good enough?


For a team not really known for its defense, the Penguins sure have seen defensemen fly off the shelves.

Last summer, teams spent $76.45 million to lure away Deryk Engelland (Calgary), Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (Washington).

This summer, more of the same with the Sharks signing Paul Martin and the Kings inking Christian Ehrhoff.

The issue here is obvious — if Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t that great to begin with and then lost all these guys, how good will it be heading into 2015-16?

“I’m comfortable with (our defense) going into the season,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said earlier this summer, per USA Today. “But it is certainly the area we will watch the closest.”

Rutherford isn’t the only one that’ll be watching.

Eyes across the league will be glued to Pittsburgh following Rutherford’s bold renovation project. Nearly all of his moves this summer were designed to improve his forward group — adding the likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHLer Sergei Plotnikov — essentially banking on the idea that, ready or not, his collection of young defensemen will carry the load.

And it really is a young group.

Only Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy have appeared in over 200 NHL games; even a “veteran” presence like 26-year-old Ian Cole is a bit of a wildcard, given he was buried on a deep Blues blueline before being acquired last season (prior to ’14-15, Cole’s career high in games played was 46).

As such, kids are going to take on some pretty hefty roles.

Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both 21, figure to get a lion’s share of the now-available minutes, while the likes of Adam Clendening (22), Brian Dumoulin (23) and Tim Erixon (24) will be fighting for depth spots — which, in Pittsburgh, are pretty important spots.

This is a defensive unit, remember, that was ravaged by injury a year ago (recall when the Pens only dressed five d-men against San Jose?) Things got so bad that, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup.

Though the club has since hired two new staffers in an effort to “minimize injuries,” losing blueliners to injury always remains a concern.

But there is a wrinkle.

Rutherford, who took heat last year for rolling the dice on a thin blueline while stockpiling offense, says that his abundance of forwards may actually help out should he to add a defenseman.

“Hopefully the younger guys can fall into place and do a consistent job,” he explained. “If not, part of having more depth up front, is that it can help us in the long run because if we have to go get a defenseman we have those extra pieces.”

Translation: Rutherford knows the group might need help.

“I’m fully aware,” he said, “that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”

Looking to make the leap: Derrick Pouliot

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins

Is this the year Derrick Pouliot transitions from promising prospect to full-time pro?

He seems to think so.

“I think I’m capable of being a reliable defender in this league. I think I can produce even more offensively, too,” Pouliot said earlier this summer, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s really about taking a two-way role, not giving up anything and creating some chances for us.

“I’ll come into camp in shape and be able to handle some more minutes.”

Last season, Pouliot looked primed to make the leap. He made his NHL debut in December and eventually replaced an injured Olli Maatta on Pittsburgh’s blueline, impressing onlookers through 34 games until an injury of his own prematurely ended the campaign.

While it was a good showing from a kid that only turned 21 in January — Pouliot racked up seven points while averaging 17:33 TOI — the former WHL Portland standout only provided a glimpse of what he could do.

Now, the Pens want a much bigger look.

They also need it.

Pittsburgh’s defense took a hit this offseason and, as a result, Pouliot’s role is bound to increase. Blueline minutes are there for the taking: Paul Martin, who averaged nearly 23 per game last season, is now in San Jose while Christian Ehrhoff, who averaged nearly 22, is in L.A.

Rob Scuderi turns 37 in December and seems primed for a (further) diminished role, and it remains to be seen if the Ben Lovejoy-for-Simon Despres trade will ever work out in the Pens’ favor.

So, enter Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012, he’s expected to shoulder a significant load this year, despite it being (essentially) his first full NHL campaign. And this isn’t any ordinary team he’s looking to leap into; Pittsburgh made major splashes throughout the summer, none bigger than the Phil Kessel acquisition, and is a legit Eastern Conference contender.

In short, the pressure’s on for Pouliot.

“I definitely know the expectations, that’s for sure,” he told NHL.com. “I know I have to be ready when the season comes around, what I have to do to be ready. It’s a little different in that aspect, that’s for sure.

“I’m pretty anxious. I feel like I can take on a bit of a bigger role.”

Gonchar returns to Penguins for pro tryout

Sergei Gonchar

With his career winding down, Sergei Gonchar is returning to Pittsburgh in the hopes of playing once more with the team he helped lead to a Stanley Cup championship.

The Penguins have announced that Gonchar will attend their training camp on a professional tryout contract.

Gonchar has recorded 220 goals and 811 points in 1,301 career games with the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, and Montreal Canadiens. He’s reached the 50-point mark on nine separate occasions and has traditionally logged big minutes.

He’s 41-years-old now though and saw his role decline substantially with Montreal last season. He had a goal and 14 points in 48 contests and wasn’t used at all in the playoffs.

At this stage of his career, he might find it difficult to secure a job with the Penguins. Pittsburgh has six blueliners inked to one-way contracts, not including Olli Maatta. On top of that, defensemen Adam Clendening and Derrick Pouliot are expected to compete for roster spots during training camp.

Pouliot trains under Gary Roberts with big opportunity looming

Derrick Pouliot

With Paul Martin gone and current unrestricted free agent Christian Ehrhoff unlikely to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 21-year-old defenseman Derrick Pouliot has been presented with a golden opportunity.

The top-end blueline prospect got his first taste of NHL action last season, scoring two goals and seven points in 34 NHL contests. It made him realize that he needs to be in even better physical condition going forward, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In order to do that he’s been training with fitness guru and former NHLer Gary Roberts. He’s also made substantial changes to his diet.

“It’s about getting my conditioning up so if I get caught out there I’m not dying trying to keep up,” Pouliot said. “It’s a little bit of a lifestyle change. I mean I’m not really a picky eater.”

Pouliot’s goal is to become a two-way defenseman and take on more, or at least “harder,” minutes after averaging 17:32 minutes per game last season.

Even with two veteran defensemen gone though, he will still be competing with Olli Maatta, Tim Erixon, and Brian Dumoulin for one of potentially two or three roster spots.

Maatta (shoulder) expects to be ready for Pens training camp

Olli Maatta

Olli Maatta says he doesn’t look back on the 2014-15 campaign.

That’s probably a good thing.

After a year in which he had a cancerous tumor removed from his neck, got the mumps and had season-ending shoulder surgery, the young Finnish blueliner only wants to look forward to next season, and get healthy for training camp.

“We’re on the schedule,” Maatta said this week, per NHL.com. “Obviously the goal is to be ready for training camp. Everything is going as we planned, so that’s the goal.”

With Paul Martin now in San Jose and Christian Ehrhoff still entertaining free agent offers, the Pens will certainly need Maatta on the back end — and for him to stay injury-free. After scoring nine points in 20 games last year, the shoulder ailment sidelined him on Dec. 6 and the decision to have surgery was made in mid-January.

That essentially snuffed out what many thought would be an impressive campaign; as a rookie in ’13-14, Maatta showed great promise by scoring nine goals and 29 points in 78 games, finishing fifth in Calder voting.