By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — By now it is public knowledge that 19-year-old rookie defenseman Olli Maatta will all but certainly remain with the Penguins, so now the question becomes, for how long?

Maatta, the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, has three points and a minus-1 rating in nine games while averaging roughly 15 minutes of ice time, and he has meshed very well with young blue-liner Robert Bortuzzo on a third pairing. His first NHL goal rallied the Pens to a 4-3 shootout win over the visiting Vancouver Canucks last Saturday.

The Penguins still have a couple days to formally decide whether to return Maatta to the London Knights of the OHL or allow the first year of his entry-level contract to kick in. Having said that, Ryan Wilson, a contributor to Hockey Buzz, cites a report by Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review that the Penguins might still send him back in the middle of the NHL regular season.

If Maatta plays more than 39 regular season games this year, he gets credit for having played his first “accrued season” in the league, which means he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency sooner–right around the presumed prime years of his career.

Click here to read the entire post by Wilson.

The Penguins return to action Friday at 7:00 against the New York Islanders at CONSOL Energy Center. It marks the teams’ first meeting since the Pens clinched a six-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Long Island, and it might also mark the return of All-Star defenseman Kris Letang.

They are right up against the league’s salary cap, and Letang’s new contract counts as a $3.5 million hit this season. Matt Niskanen, currently the team’s highest-scoring defenseman with six points through nine games, counts $2.3 million against the cap.

Niskanen is in the last year of his contract, making him, theoretically, trade bait, despite reports he would take a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh. However, Wilson believes tough guy Deryk Engelland will be the first to go in order to make room for Maatta.

“There is no room for Deryk Engelland to play defense for the Pittsburgh Penguins anymore. This was made abundantly clear when he was moved to wing, and that was before Letang came back,” Wilson writes. “In fact, there is not going to be a spot for Deryk Engelland on the Penguins at any position. Beau Bennett and Matt D’Agostini will be back in the lineup soon, and I would hope that means that the Penguins will not have to use an eighth defenseman on the fourth line anymore.”

Bennett and D’Agostini have been nursing lower-body injuries. Bennett has missed four games, while D’Agostini has yet to appear in a regular-season game since coming over as a free agent after a one-year stint with the Devils.

Head coach Dan Bylsma, who made Engelland a healthy scratch from Monday’s 1-0 loss to Colorado, went with a fourth line of Joe Vitale at center, Craig Adams on the right, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-up Harry Zolnierczyk on the left.

Bylsma said this week he is unaware of the accuracy of any reports about Maatta’s long-term future.


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