Two Week Recap; Defensive Edition
After six games the Pittsburgh Penguins currently stand atop the newly formed Metropolitan division with a record of 5-1-0. So far they have not played a truly difficult schedule, beating just one team that has a record .500 or better and have faced three teams on the second night of a back to back series. Despite this, the Penguins are taking advantage of their schedule early on and creating a multitude of storylines for the NHL.
He Isn’t Going Back – After putting together an incredible performance in training camp, Olli Maatta has clearly demonstrated that his talents are NHL ready. Maatta currently ranks third on the Penguins defense in defensive zone draws. His ice time has steadily increased as he is now averaging 14:41 per game and can be seen on the second powerplay as well as the penalty kill.
Maatta has a very smooth skating style that allows him to transition quickly between zones and jump into the play while on offense. His defensive presence, while not physical, is very effective. His long reach and excellent positioning has given Maatta an edge against situational scorers. His lack of physicality is catching up to him though as many teams are starting to crash the net when he is on the ice.
If Maatta wants to remain a Penguin for the season the Penguins are going to have to make a roster move or two. With his tremendous potential and skill set, the Penguins would be smart to make this move and allow Maatta to develop in the NHL. I, as well as many others within the hockey community, have a very high opinion of the young defensemen and hope to see him stay.
Then Who is Moved – With Maatta hopefully staying in the NHL the Penguins will be forced to move one of their remaining defensive players. This will not be an immediate decision with Kris Letang still out to a lower body injury, but it will have to be made soon with Maatta only having three remaining games on his tryout.
The Penguins tradable assets on defense include seventh defenseman Deryk Engelland and current fourth defenseman Matt Niskanen. Given his small cap hit and even smaller expected return value, Engelland is presumed to be the easier of the two to trade. He is statistically nothing spectacular, but is a tough player around the net and will drop the gloves when needed. Any team looking for added toughness should be able to forfeit the estimated sixth or seventh round draft selection for Engelland.
On the other hand we have Matt Niskanen. Niskanen is not a big defender and would never be called above average in his defensive game, but his statistics thus far show he is a very capable offensive defenseman.
Niskanen currently has one goal and four assists for five points, but ranks at a +8 on the early season. He is playing over twenty minutes per game and has played exceptionally well with his new defensive partner Rob Scuderi. His value is rising after each game, deservedly so, and his ability to play with shut down defensemen makes him a valuable piece to any club. With a cap hit south of three million, he is certainly a good grab for any team looking to boost their offensive production from the back end.
Letang Progressing – Kris Letang has now practiced two straight days for the Penguins and is on the cusp of returning, presumably within a week from today. It is expected that Letang will play with Rob Scuderi as the teams second pairing.
Orpik and Martin – The Penguins shut down pair has done a decent job thus far this season. Orpik is credited with 23 hits and 19 blocked shots through six games, both lead the team. Paul Martin is once again the Penguins work horse, leading the team in time on ice and playing in every situation. The Olympic hopefuls are once again showing why they could make an excellent bottom pairing for the U.S. Hockey team at Sochi.