Olli Maatta (Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta says he’s on schedule to make his return from the second shoulder surgery of his career by the time training camp arrives. Maatta, 20, played in 20 games in 2014-15 and missed time following the removal of a cancerous tumor and as a result of season ending shoulder injury.
Few players have had careers, let alone seasons, as trying as 2014-15 was for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta.
The 20-year-old blueliner appeared in only 20 games this past season. On the surface, that looks like a short year, but considering all that Maatta went through – the removal of a cancerous tumor on his neck and a shoulder injury that took 56 games of his season – that he played at all, let alone 20 contests, is impressive.
Following what was the second shoulder surgery of his short NHL career, Maatta’s focus isn’t on what happened in the past, but getting ready for the upcoming season.
“Just leave it all behind me,” Maatta told the Penguins’ Michelle Crechiolo. “I don’t even think of it. That’s not on my mind. All I’m thinking of is the next season. Just being ready to go in training camp and the beginning of the season.”
According to Maatta, things look good, too. He says the, “goal is to be ready for training camp,” and that presently, everything is going according to plan.
“(I’m) getting healthy and better every day and every week,” Maatta told Crechiolo. “Just trying to build up the muscle and fitness I lost during those four months.”
Getting a healthy Maatta back in the lineup is great for the Penguins, as the young defenseman has been impressive in his two short seasons. Offensively, he has registered 10 goals and 38 points in 98 career games and has been a positive possession player at 5-on-5 over the course of his two years in the NHL. That he’s only 20 means he’s still learning and adjusting to the pro game, too, which means his best years are likely ahead of him.
If all goes well for Maatta in 2015-16, he could be an early frontrunner for the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to the game. Just like it’d be hard to find many players who’ve gone through what he has, there aren’t many who, at 20, would be as deserving of earning the award.
Crechiolo reported that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford sees Maatta in a top-pairing role with the club next season, and Maatta seems ready for that challenge.
Until that time, Maatta, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Penguins in 2012, will keep working to get back on the ice in the best shape of his career, ready to carry a big workload for a Pittsburgh that is going to have big expectations to meet in 2015-16.
“That’s the goal,” he told Crechiolo. “I want to be there. I want to be a big part of this team and produce. That’s what I’m driving towards – just helping my team all I can to win the Stanley Cup.”