Olli Maatta finished fifth in Calder Trophy balloting as a rookie with Pittsburgh in 2013-14 and was an integral part of the Penguins defense on the Stanley Cup championship teams in 2016 and ’17.
His career hasn’t been the same since he left Pittsburgh. The Detroit Red Wings provide a rejuvenation opportunity.
“I have to be honest with myself, the last couple of seasons haven’t been that great, but haven’t been that big of a disaster either,” Maatta said. “I know I got a lot more in me. I think this is a great opportunity to show that. I can play in this league a long time, and even in a bigger role than I’ve had the last couple of seasons. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Detroit.
“It’s an exciting team, a good team to be on, having a new coaching staff, a really good organization with that culture that everybody wants to win.”
The Red Wings addressed their need for left-shooting defensemen in free agency by signing Maatta and Ben Chiarot on July 13. But while Chiarot got four years at $19 million, Maatta garnered only one year at $2.25 million. He has more to prove after — by his own admission — two mediocre seasons in Los Angeles.
Maatta (6-2, 206) produced nine goals and 29 points as a rookie and matched that point total in 2017-18. He had just one goal and 12 points in 107 games with the Kings the past two seasons.
“I’m known as a defensive guy, but I think I got more offense than my stats show the last couple of years,” Maatta said. “My mindset is always (defending). There’s so many details going into that — looking at how you break the puck out and if you play with the puck the other team can’t score. So ‘defensive defensemen,’ there’s a lot more to it than just defending. You got to play some offense, too.”
Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman described Chiarot and Maatta as bigger-bodied defense-first defensemen that get in opponents’ way.
“They have good length, they defend pretty well, can block shots and are big bodies that are hard to play against,” Yzerman said. “They complement the two young guys on the right.”
Chariot probably will be paired with 2021-22 rookie of the year Moritz Seider and Maatta with Filip Hronek.
Maatta said of Seider: “He plays with an edge but has a lot of skill, a lot of offense. He’s an awesome player to watch. He’s already a great player and he’s going to be a stud. They have a bunch of other guys, too. The young guys they drafted and a deep pool of prospects coming up.”
Kings teammates and former Red Wings Andreas Athanasiou and Troy Stecher gave Maatta the lowdown on Detroit.
“(Athanasiou) was (in Detroit) for a long time and had nothing but good things to say about it, organization and team-wise, the guys in there, the staff,” Maatta said. “And you talk a lot with your agent, teams that are available and where you want to go, I heard nothing bad about Detroit. It was all great things, how exciting the team is.”
The Red Wings were more exciting when Maatta was watching the occasional NHL game on TV as a youth in Finland.
“We could get one game a month; Usually, Detroit was on,” he said. “They were the team everybody wanted to watch.
Naturally, Nicklas Lidstrom was the player on whom he focused his attention.
“He could be the best defenseman ever, up there at least,” Maatta said. “He didn’t do anything real flashy but just every little thing he did was right, all the details of his game. He was a great player for everybody to watch and learn how to play the game the right way.”
Maatta turns 28 on Aug. 22, still in the prime of his career. He hopes to parlay this one-year deal into something bigger and better next summer.
“I feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me,” Maatta said. “I’m still young, still a lot of work to do, a lot to improve on. I know I can do it.”
More: Where do Red Wings stand in Atlantic Division power rankings after a busy offseason?