No training camp means missed opportunity for Penguins prospects
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ERIE, Pa. -- OK, so it's not such a good thing when Connor McDavid, the 15-year-old hotshot playing up in age with the junior Erie Otters, burns you for a goal in the early minutes of a game.
Especially with the coach and other staff from the NHL club that drafted you scrutinizing you from the Erie Insurance Arena stands.
And that's on top of the fact that you went back to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League this season because the NHL lockout erased your chance to attend Penguins training camp.
Knights defensemen and Penguins prospects Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta, whose team defeated Erie, 4-3, in a shootout Saturday night, are throwing their all into their junior season now that they missed the NHL training camp.
"Obviously, it's a big disappointment that I couldn't see the pro players, how they do things, or get to know the team, see what it's like to practice as a pro and play as a pro," said Maatta, one of two first-round picks by the Penguins in June.
"But still, you just have to keep going, keep practicing. Our goal is to make it to the NHL, and we have to keep practicing that way."
Maatta, just six weeks removed from his 18th birthday, is a solid skater and showed a propensity for breaking up plays with his stick.
He was named a team alternate captain, and Harrington was knighted as captain this season after they helped London win the Ontario Hockey League championship and advance to the final of the Memorial Cup.
Harrington, 19, had a strong training camp a year ago. Even though the Penguins are deep at defense, this year would have been full of possibilities.
"It was pretty disappointing," Harrington said of the lockout rearranging his fall. "All summer I worked out looking forward to, hopefully, get a chance to go to camp and then see what happened from there.
"I'm lucky, I guess, that I'm not affected as much as the regular NHL guys. I can still play here in London, so that's what my attention is completely focused on right now."
Neither defenseman had a point against the Otters. Each has three assists in six games. Harrington has a plus-minus rating of plus-6; Maatta is plus-2.
Early in the game Saturday, with coach Dan Bylsma, defensive assistant Todd Reirden and others from the Penguins looking on, McDavid almost got to a loose puck along the boards in his defensive end. With wisdom beyond his age, he opted not to slow down for a second reach back for the puck, but instead raced out of the zone and received a pass as he skated past the penalty boxes.
By the time he crossed the blue line, McDavid was one-on-two against Harrington and Maatta. He got partially behind them, nearly to the left post, and started to curl toward the corner along the extended goal line. Then he deftly cut back toward the crease and scored between the defensemen.
It seems likely that McDavid -- who has four goals, nine points in seven junior games -- will get the better of a lot of good defensemen in his career, although London coach Dale Hunter reacted by splitting up that pairing after the first period. Harrington and Maatta remained on the points for the second power-play unit.
The two were particularly solid in overtime, keeping London on the attack with Harrington nearly winning it on a shot that hit the crossbar.
Afterward, the Penguins contingent spent time talking to Harrington and Maatta.
Harrington, in particular, might be expected to dominate in the OHL this season, considering his experience. He played in the world junior championships for Canada -- something he seems likely to do again -- and in the Canada-Russia Challenge in August.
"I think you always put expectations like that on yourself," Harrington said. "It's my fourth year in the league, so I feel more comfortable. I guess there are raised expectations every year in the league, but there's stuff that the Penguins gave me to work on, the different things they like their defensemen to be able to do."
Things such as mobility, puck retrieval and quick transitions.
Maatta made the Finnish world junior team as a 16-year-old and again last year, although his 2012 tournament got cut short because of a concussion -- another missed opportunity. He not only missed out on his first NHL training camp, but now he also is deprived of watching NHL games, one of his favorite pastimes.
"I really haven't been thinking about it," he said. "I don't want to."
First Published October 8, 2012 12:00 am