Just weeks after rumours had indicated that Phil Kessel would be heading to the Wild, the Pittsburgh Penguins suddenly opted for a different direction on Saturday night, trading defensemen Olli Maata to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round draft pick.
According to The Associated Press, Chicago has been looking to upgrade their blue line after missing the Stanley Cup playoffs, adding a significantly younger asset after their second consecutive year falling out of the postseason.
The transaction was confirmed through a club announcement on Saturday evening, noting that the fifth-round pick headed to the Pittsburgh Penguins would be for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft this week in Vancouver. In addition to that, it was noted that Maata is signed through the 2021-22 season, meanwhile, his contract carries an AAV of $4,083,333.
In taking a deeper look now at Olli Maata, the Finnish defensemen was selected by Pittsburgh in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and has since become one of the Penguins most elite players on the ice alongside the likes of Evegeni Malkin and Canadian captain Sidney Crosby.
In his sixth season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Maata, 24, struggled significantly, scoring just a single goal and 13 assists, making for 14 points registered through a total of 60 games played. Alongside his main set of statistics, Maata also recorded 12 penalty minutes and a Plus/Minus rating of 9.
Maata, who has never been the biggest contributor in scoring offensively, helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back season in 2016 and 17, meanwhile, he also ranked third on the Penguins last season with 116 blocked shots defensively.
As for forward Dominik Kahun, the Czech-born German forward was signed to an entry-level contract out of the DEL where he spent the last four seasons with Munich EHC before making his NHL debut back on October third of 2018.
Since then, Kahun has become an everyday player in front of the Blackhawks faithful and head coach Jeremy Colliton, finding a new groove on Chicago’s first line alongside Canadian centreman Jonathan Toews. That in mind and knowing that the Blackhawks have been looking to make changes, it has been predicted since that should Kahun return, he would likely have a permanent spot on the team’s active roster, potentially appearing on the third line alongside Dominik Kubalik.
In taking a deeper look now at Kahun’s performance for the regular season, the 23-year-old forward played rather well in his first NHL season, scoring 13 goals and 24 assists, making for 37 points registered through a total of 82 games played. Alongside his main set of statistics, Kahun also recorded six penalty minutes and a Plus/Minus rating of 10.
As noted by Jesse Marshall of The Athletic Pittsburgh, Kahun exhibits when in the offensive zone while he brings a level of sneakiness as well. He is able to cover large portions of ice against the flow of play to find a soft spot out in front of the net. This allows him to get to the scoring area where he can shoot without being caught by the opposition.
Marshall was not the only one to share his high-shooting regards of Dominik Kahun as Mark Lazerus of The Athletic Chicago provided a scouting report of his own on the Czech-born forward. In a statement from the Blackhawks columnist, he said of Kahun’s achievements, “Players simply don’t make the leap from the German League to the NHL, but Kahun – who caught the attention of several NHL teams with his performance in the World Championships and the Olympics – pulled off the feat with surprising ease. He immediately slipped into a top-six role, first finding chemistry with Alex DeBrincat and the showing off his versatility playing on all four lines, in both offensive and defensive roles. He’s not going to set the world on fire offensively – and a couple weeks shy of his 24th birthday, perhaps he never will – but he has good vision (of his 24 assists, 17 were primaries), decent speed and can handle himself in his own end. He was a regular on the Blackhawks ‘little used second power-play unit. Overall, he’s a useful, middle-six player who can play a number of roles. The Blackhawks were in no hurry to trade him, but with European imports Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin expected to be in the NHL lineup right away, forward was a position of strength for them to try to leverage into improving their brutal blue line.”
As for the thoughts of Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, he said upon the acquisition off Kahun from the Chicago Blackhawks for Olli Maata, “He had a good first year. He was signed as a center and moved to wing, which is something you’ve seen from a lot of my own players over the years. But he can play all three forward positions. He’s an exceptional skater and has good hands, (and) incredible skill. If you get a player like that, and he can move up and down your lineup, it gives Sully some versatility that I think we need.”
When taking a look at this deal from more of an Olli Maata point of view, it is important to note that the Penguins had no room to keep the left-handed shooter on the roster in Pittsburgh given the fact that he was one of eight defensemen under contract on the Penguins for next year. That being said, as noted by Mark McGreal of Yardbarker.com, Maata’s time on the ice would have been limited while he also dealt with his fair share of injuries.
More specifically, head coach Mike Sullivan listed Olli Maata as a healthy scratch for the final three games, Pittsburgh going on to close out their season with a first-round exit against the New York Islanders. Additionally, Maata had missed two months sidelined due to an upper-body injury suffered back in February and so perhaps this was predictable as a safety precaution to his unstable condition.
In a statement from Jim Rutherford, general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he said about Maata’s performance and the adversity that he’s had to go through, “I have a special affection for Olli. He’s as good a guy as you can find. He’s a good player, too. Gone through a lot of adversity and has worked hard to get through it.”
With Maata now on the move where he can look to improve under general manager Stan Bowman, the cap has been projected to set at $83 million for the upcoming regular season. According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins salary cap has been listed at $76.625 million as a result of the trade.
Speaking of which, Rutherford told Rob Rossi of The Athletic Pittsburgh that the trade involving Maata came together late this past week. Additionally, tossing in a second fifth-round pick in what his scouts have assessed a deep draft was a bonus.
To that extent, Rutherford said of the trade’s initial origins, “Certainly, this move takes pressure off as we find out what the cap is going to be.” In closing, he then went on to say with the direction that he hopes it takes them in, “Our priority certainly is to be in a win-now mode. We have to continuously look at that.”
Speaking to that extent, it looks like they certainly will explore every avenue as Rutherford did not rule out more trades, though restocking the Penguins prospect system is not his current priority heading into the draft. With that being said, it remains likely that the doors are still open for a deal to take place including Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, a possibility that may continue to loom ahead of the NHL Draft on Friday night in Vancouver.