Penguins Dodge Further Trouble With Olli Maatta Shoulder Diagnosis


Nov 29, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Olli Maatta (3) skates against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

With all the mumps cases – real and suspected – going around the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past few weeks, there was something even more ominous than an infectious disease lurking in the background.

On Saturday morning, the Pens appeared to avoid that negative potential when they announced that second-year defensemen Olli Maatta will not undergo surgery on the same shoulder that he had repaired in the offseason.

The 20-year-old Maatta has been out of action for three weeks with an undisclosed shoulder injury, but general manager Jim Rutherford said he will continue his rehabilitation with the goal of returning to the lineup sometime in January.

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Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last week that Maatta sought out a second opinion after the Pens’ doctor advised he take on another surgical procedure. A second surgery in less than a year would’ve likely kept Maatta out until the start of the 2015-16 season.

Clearly, today’s news is positive. Maatta has taken on a large role with the Penguins despite playing in fewer than 100 NHL games. The left-handed shooter regularly plays 20 minutes a night and drives play in all three phases of the game. Furthermore, Maatta has already overcome a bout with thyroid cancer this season.

With the Penguins likely looking to trade defensemen for additional forward depth, having a healthy Maatta is critical to bridging the gap while blueline prospects like Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington get accustomed to the NHL – assuming none of them are dealt themselves.

While Maatta rehabs, the Pens will have to keep leaning on veterans Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi to maintain a level of dependability. At the same time, this remains a critical time to get Pouliot, Dumoulin and Harrington some repetitions in game situations.

It’s a challenging balance to maintain, but it’s one that head coach Mike Johnston and defensive assistant Gary Agnew have gotten used to at this point.