Penguins notebook: NHL veteran has high praise for young Penguins defenseman


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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Teemu Selanne likely was ramping up his workouts in advance of his third NHL training camp in August 1994 when fellow Finn Olli Maatta was born.

Selanne, an Anaheim Ducks winger and future Hall of Famer, is the oldest active player in the NHL at 43 years-plus. During the Olympic tournament last month in Sochi, Russia, he sure liked what he saw of Maatta, the Penguins’ 19-year-old defenseman.

“It’s unbelievable,” Selanne said before the Ducks and Penguins met at Honda Center late Friday night.

“It’s amazing how these days young guys can come in the league and be ready like that.”

Selanne — the tournament MVP playing in his record-tying sixth Olympics in hockey — and Maatta helped Finland win the bronze medal. Maatta had two goals, three assists in six games.

“Even at the Olympics, when he played best against best, he was so calm,” Selanne said. “He didn’t look like he was a first-year player. It was fun to follow him.

“And also off the ice — how much work he does every day for preparation. It’s truly professional stuff.”

Maatta, selected by the Penguins 22nd overall at the 2012 NHL draft, had two goals Thursday night in a 5-3 loss at San Jose. It was his first multiple-goal game in the NHL and his third multiple-point game in the past five outings going into the game against the Ducks. He has nine goals, 18 assists in his 61 games.

“It’s fun to watch when the young guys are ready like that right away,” Selanne said. “I remember when I was 18, 19, I wouldn’t have been ready.

“Pittsburgh has done a great job with feeding that confidence. He’s so confident and calm. They have done something because not only playing-wise, but the whole package is there.”

Selanne spent some time talking with Maatta in Sochi. He found Maatta to be quiet and respectful, rarely speaking when surrounded by veterans unless he was asked a question.

“But, in a smaller group, he gets in a good conversation,” Selanne said. “He throws some funny lines here and there. You can see how much respect he has for older players.

“But what a great kid. Unbelievable. I met his mom there, too. He comes from a good, solid family. You can see that.”

Maatta took a somewhat unconventional path to the NHL for a Finnish player. When he was 16, he left his native country to play North American junior hockey for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. After two seasons there, he made the jump this season to being among the Penguins’ top six defensemen.

“That’s a good example that there are so many different ways to make it in the NHL,” Selanne said. “In Finland, normally we play back home in the top league and the national team and maybe world championships and Olympics before we come [to the NHL], but he took a different road. He learned to play in the smaller [North American] rink right away.

“The Canadian juniors, they play as many games as we do in the NHL. The preparation was very good for him. He got the confidence from there.”

Neither Selanne nor Maatta had a point in the Penguins’ 3-1 home win Dec. 5 against the Ducks. Friday night, however, likely was the last time those two will play against each other unless the Penguins and Ducks meet in the Stanley Cup final this spring. Selanne has announced his intention to retire after this season.

Lovejoy happy in Anaheim

Former Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is 30 now. He celebrated the birth of his first son with two goals — of his three this season before Friday night — for the Ducks Jan. 3 against Edmonton.

Lovejoy considers himself to be living a charmed life in the NHL. He has played for the Penguins, perennially a top team in the Eastern Conference, and now he plays for Anaheim, the top team in the NHL.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky to play on such good teams.

“Winning is fun. It makes life better. I’m so lucky to be playing here in paradise for the top team in the West.”

He has mixed feelings, though, about facing the Penguins.

“I look forward to seeing people,” Lovejoy said. “I like a lot of people in that locker room. I don’t think anybody looks forward to playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re a good team for a reason, and they can make even very good defensemen look very stupid.”

Tip-ins

The Penguins did not have a game-day skate Friday after playing and traveling Thursday night. … The Penguins will get a day off in Southern California today, then make a cross-country trek and have an evening practice Sunday in Washington, D.C. They will play the Washington Capitals Monday night in their fifth consecutive road game.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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