My absolute favorite active player in the NHL is Olli Maatta, if you didn’t already know. Today, August 22, 2018, just happens to be his 24th birthday. I’d say he definitely accomplished and overcame a lot in his life thus far. A defenseman from Finland, Maatta has his haters, but they just don’t appreciate the progress of his career.
He played in multiple World Junior Championships and many other international competitions both for Finland’s U18 and U20 teams.
He was the youngest player to ever play for Finland’s World Junior team
While in the OHL, he and his team made it to the Memorial Cup championship game not once, but twice.
He finished in fifth place for Calder Cup voting after his rookie season with the Penguins.
He won a bronze medal with Team Finland in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
He was selected to Finland’s team for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Olli Maatta has played a part in the Penguins winning back to back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Mind you, he achieved those two Stanley Cups after overcoming a shoulder injury that required two separate surgeries about six months apart. In the midst of that, he was diagnosed with low-grade thyroid cancer which kept him off the ice for only two weeks after surgery.
The kid has only gotten better over time. His skating, which everyone complained about it being an issue his first few seasons, has improved greatly and is no longer a hindrance to his game. He has been relied on to step up with alllllllll of the injuries that have plagued the Penguins’ blue line over the last few years. Maatta is steady and secure in his game. He’s not one to get in his own head and let one bad shift affect the rest of the game.
It’s been exceptional, tremendous, enlightening, and just really, really cool to watch him grow his game and develop as a player over the last few years. He’s the one that really introduced to me to the greatness of the developmental program that Finland has created and maintained. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him and hope he stays in Pittsburgh for a long, long time.
Pittsburgh and Penguins fans could not be happier to have Matt Cullen, aka “Dad”, back for one more season. However, Cullen and his sons might be even happier to be back in the ‘Burgh and with the Penguins organization. Joey, Wyatt, and Brooks Cullen love Pittsburgh and their dad’s Penguins teammates. Over the summer, since he signed back with the Penguins, the Penguins media crew met up with the Cullen’s and did a series on them. In one picture, his son could be seen wearing a Penguins shirt but not with his dad’s name on the back. Instead, the Cullen kids wear Pens gear with their favorite players on the back such as Evgeni Malkin and of course Sidney Crosby.
Crosby is a bit of a legend in the Cullen household. First off, the oldest Cullen boy, Brooks, has a huge Fathead wall display featuring Crosby in his bedroom. Also, part of the media series covered knee hockey tournaments in the Cullen’s basement with special guests. Crosby was named the “best goalie” and Hornqvist took home the title of “best player” while Phil Kessel wasn’t as good as his sister, Amanda, and Carl Hagelin was too “slow”.
It was cool to see into their lives outside of hockey (although their lives outside of hockey still contains a lot of hockey). Matt Cullen will always be the Dad of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh will always be a second home for this Dad.
The Calgary Flames have been putting in the work this off-season and it just might pay off. Over the last few seasons the Flames have been “that close” to a phenomenal team that can compete in the post season. They’ve struggled to maintain an offensive force and were in need of consistent defensemen in front of their netminders. With the additions of Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Huricanes and some veterans in the league, they have taken a major step in filling the holes throughout the lineup.
Noah Hanifin was drafted in 2015 by the Hurricanes after completing only one season at Boston College under the best coach in collegiate ice hockey, Jerry York. At BC he played in 37 of 38 games with 5 goals, 18 assists, and a +12 rating. The Golden Eagles finished second in the Hockey East that year. Following his collegiate success, Hanifin was the only defensemen in his draft class to start the season that same year in the NHL. This past season was, offensively, his best yet with 10 goals and 22 assists. He definitely needs to improve on his +/- rating this year with Calgary in order to make a difference. However, giving him the benefit of the doubt as I did with Skinner in a prior post, the entire Hurricanes lineup struggles to keep the puck out of the net and Hanifin’s rating at least shows he received a lot of ice time.
Elias Lindholm has 188 points in 374 career games. He’s a young, strong center with a lot of potential. It might have been a risky move for the Flames to sign him to such a big deal, but I believe it will pay off for them. The other big addition the Flames have made this summer is signing James Neal. The Hurricanes are the fifth organization he will be a part of in the league. Neal is a dependent, passionate winger with a lot of playoff experience. He just might be the perfect line mate for Lindholm or is he going to be the third with Monahan and Gaudreau?
A re-signing that the Flames hope will pay off for them in the long run is their goaltender Mike Smith. He won 25 of his 55 starts this past season with a .916 save percentage. Goaltending has been an issue for the Flames over the last few years, hopefully Smith can change that this upcoming season.
Jeff Skinner or Chris Kunitz? It seems to be the biggest trade rumor when it comes to the Penguins and their fans this off-season. With Skinner, you get a strong left winger whereas with Kunitz you get a city-loved veteran. Skinner would be new blood in Pittsburgh with new energy and a ready-to-go mindset. He finished the past season with 49 points in 82 games but could add to his defensive game as he was -27 on the season. Although, seeing as he was with the Hurricanes, it was probably a team-wide issue. At this point in his career, I see Kunitz being a third/fourth-liner if he comes back to Pittsburgh. He knows the game and the city, if not Sullivan’s system. He brings a lot of grit to his game while still producing on offense. Now with Sheary and Hunwick on their way to Buffalo, it looks like we may just see Kunitz back in the ‘Burgh or invite Skinner for a long-term visit.