Olli Maatta hasn’t had a great year. Heck, he hasn’t really had a great last season and 1/4 if we’re being honest. Something has just seemed off about him. His reaction times and positioning, which set him apart early in his career, seem slower, less sharp. His everything just seems, not right. While some are quick to say maybe he just overperformed as a rookie, I wasn’t so sure. Now a large part of the issue is deploying him with Daley. So the immediate thought is, “well just stop putting them together.” Seems simple. Then, one night, I was poking around on Hockeyviz.com and came across a chart that might unlock the real issue:
This is a deployment chart for the Penguins defense this season, 2016-2017. You see Kris Letang clearly as the 1 RD. Justin Schultz emerges as the 2 RD over the course of the season. And Brian Dumoulin is clearly the 1 LD. What is interesting though is Olli Maatta is listed as the team’s 2 or 3 RD. The problem? Olli Maatta is a left defenseman. No Seriously. He’s a left shot who plays the left side.
He did it with Niskanen in 2013-2014:
He did it in juniors with the London Knights:
He’s scored some OT goals from that left side:
And he is good at breakouts on the left (even when Scuderi was his partner):
Basically, he’s playing the wrong position.
Now look, I’m not going to sit here and say just putting him over there is going to magically fix every issue. He’s going to need time to get back into the groove of playing there. But, it has shown early signs of working. Exhibit A? The only goal he’s scored this season.
What’s that? Olli Maatta on his natural side? What craziness?!
Again, this isn’t a magic bullet. This won’t make his reaction time perfect. It’s not going to erase every mistake he makes. But it was widely thought that he played some of his best hockey in the 2-3 games just before he got injured this season. And those best games? Came when he played more of his minutes on the left side with Justin Schultz and Chad Ruhwedel.
In short: Maatta has played 54 games this season. Of those, 17 have come at his natural position. That means that he’s played his off-side in the remaining 37 games. For someone whose body of professional and major junior hockey shows them playing almost exclusively on the left, this is weird.
Bonus Penalty shot goal, because come on: