Penguins defenseman Maatta is recovering quickly



Olli Maatta cocks his stick above his waist as the puck skids across the ice toward him.

It arrives, and a split-second later, is hammered high into the net about 50 feet in front of him.

In that sequence, Maatta looks very much like the defenseman who, as a 19-year-old rookie, scored nine goals in 78 NHL games last season.

The one who finished fifth in the voting for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the league's top first-year player.

He does not, however, look at all like a guy who's only about 3½ months removed from shoulder surgery.

Maatta strides into the puck without hesitation, without limitation. Nothing about his movements suggests that earlier this summer, he had an operation projected to sideline him for much as six months.

"It's going well," Maatta said Thursday. "When I had the surgery, I was afraid that over the summer, it would be kind of bad. That I couldn't do too much, like work out.

"But I've been surprised at how good it's been. It hasn't really bothered me [while] working out. I've been able to do almost all the stuff I've needed to do, like in a normal summer."

It's important to note that Maatta still has not been cleared for contact, and it's still possible he won't be in time for the start of training camp in two weeks.

General manager Jim Rutherford said Maatta "continues to rehab and will be evaluated the week before camp."

Maatta has been working out on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar, often with trainer Chris Stewart observing, before participating in informal practices with teammates.

The only giveaway that he's coming off serious surgery is the NHL regulation that prohibits team personnel from working with players at this time of year unless they are rehabilitating an injury.

Although Maatta's shoulder was damaged enough that it had to be surgically repaired, he doesn't recall when he was injured or if it happened on a specific play, such as an especially hard check.

"I can't really remember the play," he said. "After a game, it hurt, but that was pretty much it.

"It was after Christmas. I don't really remember when it started to bother me."

Not surprisingly, then, Maatta said he wasn't forced to play through any significant pain most of the time, and that the problem did not have a major impact on his ability to do his job.

"Once in a while, it hurt, but that's pretty much it," he said. "Once in a while, you'd get hit, and it would hurt, but that's normal. It really didn't bother me shooting or anything else like that."

Maatta finished his first NHL season with nine goals and 20 assists -- the third-highest points total among rookie defensemen -- in 78 regular-season games, while averaging about 18½ minutes of ice time. He added four assists in 13 playoff appearances.

Not a bad winter's work for almost anyone who plays his position, but Maatta didn't stop there. He also earned a bronze medal while playing for Finland in the Olympics.

The Penguins had thought enough of Maatta's potential that they invested a first-round draft choice, the 22nd overall, in him in 2012, and they weren't alone. Rutherford, then the general manager in Carolina, said recently that the Hurricanes had Maatta rated the No. 7 prospect available that year.

Despite his obvious promise, even Maatta didn't anticipate that he would get so established so quickly in this league.

"I never would guessed last summer that I would play in the NHL the whole season, or that I would be here right now," he said.

Well, Maatta is here, and he figures to stay for quite a while, which is why there's no real temptation to push his recovery beyond the limits set by the medical professionals.

"You just want to make sure you get everything right," he said.

Smiling broadly, Maatta added, "I just want to get it fixed, because I hope I have a couple more years left in my career."

Doesn't seem like too much to expect. The tough part will be making those coming seasons as impressive as his first.

NOTE — The Penguins signed agitating winger Daniel Carcillo to a pro tryout contract. Carcillo, 29, was the Penguins' third-round draft choice in 2003, but did not appear in a game for them before being dealt to Phoenix as part of a trade for enforcer Georges Laraque. Carcillo is 6 feet, 200 pounds and has 44 goals, 48 assists and 1,179 penalty minutes in 390 NHL games with the Coyotes, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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