Letang understands Maatta's situation with Penguins

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Kris Letang has been in Olli Maatta's skates.

In 2006, Letang was a 19-year-old Penguins defenseman who had a solid start over his first seven NHL games. Then, he got sent back to his junior club.

Right now, Maatta is a 19-year-old defenseman who has been solid over his first seven NHL games. The Penguins have not publicly stated whether they will re-assign Maatta to his junior club sometime in the next week or keep him on their roster.

Maatta, showing the same poise off the ice that has, in part, made him so impressive on it, is stiff-arming any nerves.

"I know it's seven games," he said Friday after Penguins practice at Southpointe. "I'm not thinking about it."

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    Penguins vs. Vancouver Canucks, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

  • TV, Radio:

    Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).

  • Probable goaltenders:

    Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Roberto Luongo for Canucks.

  • Penguins:

    Are 4-0 at home. ... Have not given up a power-play goal at home (9-0). ... Sidney Crosby led NHL in scoring with 14 points going into Friday.

  • Canucks:

    Are 3-1 vs. Eastern Conference. ... Penalty-killing (92.3 percent) led NHL and 3 short-handed goals tied for league lead. ... Henrik Sedin led NHL in assists with 9.

  • Hidden stat:

    Luongo got his 63rd career shutout and 352nd win Thursday at Buffalo, both totals second among active NHL goalies, behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

That's exactly the right approach, according to Letang, who spent the balance of 2006-07 with Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior League but hardly let that impede his career path. Now 26, he is an elite talent who was a finalist last season for the Norris Trophy, which goes to the top defenseman in the NHL.

"You try to not think about it, try to play well every night, make [management's] decision really difficult," Letang said of being in Maatta's situation. "I think that's what he's been doing.

"When I was 19, I made it a hard decision for them, too, but, at the same time, you know that sometimes it's tough to put a 19-year-old in the lineup for an 82-game season."

Maatta, who has two assists and has shown strong positional and defensive play as a member of the Penguins' third pairing, is not eligible this season to play in the minor league American Hockey League. He said he does not foresee a scenario where he would play professionally this season in his native Finland, either.

That leaves the Penguins -- where his entry-level contract will kick in beyond nine NHL games -- or his junior team, London of the Ontario Hockey League.

Letang has not played this season because of a knee injury, and it seems unlikely he will play today when Vancouver visits Consol Energy Center for a matinee. Also expected to be out are wingers Beau Bennett, James Neal and Matt D'Agostini, who each have unspecified injuries.

Letang has had plenty of time to watch Maatta, although he has not been on the ice with the younger defenseman since training camp.

"Defensively, he's got an edge on a lot of guys at his age," said Letang, who always has been identified as an offensive defenseman.

"Usually, they're worried about the offense. He's playing really well. He's got a good stick, good positioning. He skates well. He's got already a good background defensively.

If the Penguins return Maatta to London, Letang's advice would be to go without a chip on his shoulder.

"You don't want to go back and think, 'I should be up there [in the NHL] playing with those guys,'" Letang said.

"You want to focus on playing a better game defensively, offensively -- you try to work on different aspects of your game and try to show up even a better player a year later."

That's what Letang did. In 40 games with Val d'Or in 2006-07, he had 14 goals, 52 points and a plus-minus rating of plus-19.

"I tried to focus on some things. It's your own game, just learning," said Letang who never has stopped doing those things.

"It's the same every summer, every year for me. I try to get better."

So far, he has been a spectator as the Penguins have scored at least three goals every game, played tight defense most of the time and gotten off to a 6-1 start.

"I can't wait to get in the lineup," said Letang, who gushed when asked what he sees the Penguins doing right.

"Everything," he said. "They're playing well in the system. Guys are playing well offensively, defensively. They're paying attention to little details, and that's what pays off."

That includes the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, a lightning rod for criticism for his play in recent postseason appearances but who is 6-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

"He's one of those goalies that can win games for us," Letang said.

"We're really happy with him right now."

Letang's teammates no doubt will welcome him to the lineup, likely soon considering he is practicing, but whether Maatta will be one of them is still a question, at least in the short term.

"He's a good player," Letang said of Maatta. "He's going to be in the NHL soon."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 18, 2013 8:16 PM


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