2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Olli Maatta, D, London (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Olli Maatta, ranked as the 8th best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab.

Having been selected first overall in last summer’s Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft, a then 16-year-old Olli Maatta undoubtedly felt the pressure to play up to that top billing. The Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights felt confident in its evaluation of the Finnish-born import that it traded third-year defenseman Reid McNeil, along with its own first round pick (25th overall) and 2013 second and third round picks to climb up to the top of the draft board and select the then 6-foot-2, 198-pound defenseman.

“(London general manager and coach) Mark Hunter came to watch me play at the (2011) World Junior Championships, and all I knew about them (London) was that they were a pretty good team,” said the mild-mannered, yet confident Maatta. “For me and the development of my game, I knew that I really wanted to play Canadian style hockey.

“The chance to come here and play on a smaller rink was very appealing. The game is so much faster … it is definitely more interesting to play.”

While he didn’t see much of the ice in Finland’s six tournament games, Maatta, alike past and current NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, did have the opportunity to hone his entire hockey repertoire – as just a 16-year-old – against players who were primarily 18 and 19 years old.

“Olli is a very focused, level-headed kid,” said Knights third-year assistant coach Misha Donskov, who also serves as Hunter’s assistant general manager. “He’s very cerebral, with a very high hockey IQ.

“We knew when we drafted him that the transition from playing in Finland to playing here (in London) would be seamless, because of his work ethic. He’s a tireless worker.”

Maatta, who was selected one pick before dynamic Russian center Mikhail Grigorenko – an expected top-five selection in this June’s NHL Entry Draft – in last summer’s Import Draft immediately found a new home and a new family in London, as the 2011-12 OHL season commenced.

“Olli picked up the new style of the Canadian Hockey game rather quickly,” said Donskov, a former professional hockey scout with both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Atlanta Thrashers. “Still, as a young kid, there are certain aspects of the game that he needs to develop.

“From the strength and the release of his shot from the point to being in the right position to take and deliver big, physical hits, it takes time … still, I believe that Olli is willing to do all the work to excel.”

Playing alongside Jarred Tinordi – a 2010 first round selection (22nd overall) by the Montreal Canadiens – as well as Scott Harrington – a 2011 second round pick (54th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins – the now 17-year old Maatta (born August 22, 1994) performed at an elite level, in which a former top overall selection is expected to play at.

Maatta led all Knight blue-liners in scoring with 32 points – five goals and 27 assists – in 58 games. He was also a +25, and played a key role in leading the Knights to a Western Conference Regular Season Championship, in turn giving them the top overall seed heading into the OHL postseason.

“My game has really developed,” said Maatta, prior to his team’s current postseason run. “I continue to see the game well, and my D-zone coverage has gotten a whole lot better.”

In the midst of his successful rookie campaign in London, Maatta, an admirer of former NHL defenseman and fellow countryman Teppo Numminen, made a return trip to the Under-20 World Junior Championships in Calgary, but the excursion was short-lived.

In Finland’s 6-1 opening game loss to the host Canadians, Maatta suffered a mild concussion at the hands of a bone-crushing hit by Boone Jenner, a 2011 draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He would not return to the competition.

Finland’s loss quickly became London’s gain, as the team embarked on its playoff run.

The Knights – seeded first – swept past the eighth-seeded Windsor Spitfires in four straight games to move on to the Western Conference semifinals. After falling behind the fifth-seeded Saginaw Spirit, two-games-to-one, the Knights rallied to win the final three games of the series and advance on to the Western Conference finals against the third-seeded Kitchener Rangers.

Pitted up against standout defenseman Ryan Murphy – a 2011 first round selection (12th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes – it was Maatta who made his case to being selected near the top of June’s NHL draft board, as he recorded seven points – three goals and four assists – in a four-game Knights sweep.

Maatta was named the top star in a 5-2 Knights victory in Game 3, scoring two goals and adding an assist. He followed that performance up by being the named the game’s second star in a 4-2 Knights win in Game 4, as he netted a goal and added an assist.

In the postseason, Maatta has registered an impressive 19 points – five goals and 14 assists – in leading the Knights to a 12-2 record. He currently sits tied for seventh in OHL playoff scoring with teammate Seth Griffith and Niagara defenseman Dougie Hamilton, second to Murphy (22 points) in scoring for a defenseman and first in rookie scoring.

Maatta and The Knights return to action Thursday evening, as they match up with current Islanders prospects Ryan Strome (15 GP, 7 G , 14 A), Mitchell Theoret (12 GP, 3 G, 3A) and the Niagara Ice Dogs in Game One of the 2012 Rogers OHL Championship Series. The Ice Dogs have won 12 of its 15 playoff games, finishing off Cody Ceci and the Ottawa 67’s in five games to capture the Eastern Conference Championship.

Maatta’s recent surge has also opened the eyes of many NHL scouting departments, with a look towards June’s Entry Draft. Maatta, who is currently playing at 202 pounds, believes that his body frame might be able to carry even more muscle.

“Right now at 17-years-old, I know that I am going to continue to grow muscles,” said Maatta, who began playing organized hockey at six years old, just two years after his parents put him on his first pair of skates in his hometown of Jyvaskyla, Finland. “While my upper body continues to get bigger, I don’t think it will have an effect on my skating.”

Surprisingly, TSN’s Craig Button has not listed Maatta amongst his top-60 skaters entering June’s draft, but it will come as no surprise to anyone if he isn’t selected in the draft’s top-20 picks overall. Still, Maatta isn’t disconcerted by any positive or negative draft talk.

“I really don’t pay attention to any mock drafts,” said Maatta, who compares his style of play to current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, based on composed play, along with an ability to rush with the puck. “What I know about myself is that I am a hard worker, a good leader, and all I play for is to win.”

Donskov also believes Maatta’s potential is limitless.

“Olli will have a long career as a pro,” said Donskov. “He’s definitely in the discussion with all the other defensemen expected to go near the top of the draft.

“There is no timeline on when he will ready to make the jump, but I know he is very determined to get there.”

If the Islanders select a top-line forward – as expected – with the fourth overall selection, would it be feasible for the team to trade back up into the middle of the first round to secure a top-four defensive gem like Maatta? Would the Islanders steer clear of Maatta being that he is one of the youngest draft-eligible players – along with fellow countryman Teuvo Teravainen (9-11-94) – expected to be picked near the top of the draft?

“I am very excited for the chance to go to the draft,” said Maatta. “And if I get picked by the Islanders, I would have a great opportunity to learn from a player who plays a similar calm game like me in (Mark) Streit.”

“I like watching him play.”

The 2012 Entry Draft is just 54 days away.