PITTSBURGH — Olli Maatta is sticking with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The team announced Thursday the 19-year-old defenseman will remain with the club indefinitely rather than return to his junior team, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The Penguins could have sent Maatta back down and pushed back his rookie status until next year.
Instead, Maatta will remain in Pittsburgh and enter the first year of his entry-level contract. If he stays more than 40 games, he can become a free agent by age 25.
It’s heady territory for a kid who was in high school a year ago.
“It’s gone good so far so why change anything?” Maatta said.
Maatta, who is from Finland, has one goal and two assists while averaging around 15 minutes of ice time a game for the Penguins. The 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft has wowed coach Dan Bylsma with his skating and impressed teammates with his ability to adapt quickly to the sport’s highest level.
“I think he’s played nine games in a row because he’s earned the right to play nine games in a row because he’s given us the best chance to win hockey games and that’s going to happen in the 10th game too,” Bylsma said.
The odds seemed long during training camp, when Maatta’s NHL debut figured to be at least a year away. He made a compelling case for himself during the preseason and was a surprise addition when he survived the final cuts.
“I feel like I worked hard for this and they feel like I still need to work hard and get better,” he said. “But I feel better about staying here.”
Maatta isn’t a potent offensive player but hasn’t hesitated when given the opportunity. His first NHL goal came in a 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver last Saturday when he poked in a rebound with 6:48 remaining in regulation to tie the game.
Though Maatta insists the goal wasn’t his “welcome to the NHL moment” there’s little doubt it gave him a boost that’s helped him believe he belonged.
“Every game I’ve gotten more confident out there,” he said. “Every game I get more confident that I can play at this level.”
NOTES: The Penguins recalled forward Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL and placed forward Beau Bennett on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 12. ... Defenseman Kris Letang, who has not played this season due to a lower body injury, practiced on Thursday and Bylsma said it is “likely” Letang will make be in the lineup today when the Penguins host the New York Islanders.