Veteran Olli Maatta excited about joining up-and-coming Red Wings: ‘I want to be part of it’

Detroit News

Detroit — Admittedly it does feel like new Red Wings defenseman Olli Maatta has been around forever.

But you’d be surprised to learn, no, Maatta hasn’t been around for 20 years. It only feels like it.

Maata, signed by the Wings to a one-year contract last week in free agency, himself is kind of shocked where the years have gone.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said Maatta, who will turn 28 on Aug. 22 and is entering his 10th NHL season. “I don’t feel like a veteran in that sense. I feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me. I’m still kind of young, still have a lot of work to do and improve on.

“Having played that long, it feels like time flies. Nine seasons gone now, going into the 10th season, but I feel like I still have a lot left.”

The Wings feel the same way, having signed Maatta to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million. The addition of Maatta and defenseman Ben Chiarot, said general manager Steve Yzerman, “will help our special teams and particularly our penalty killing, and then defensively five-on-five as well.”

Maatta, who won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, was thrilled to join a Red Wings organization seemingly on the upswing.

“You see some of the players they already had before free agency started, and adding some big pieces, it’s a great place and exciting times,” Maatta said. “You can definitely see it, they’re up-and-coming and they want to be contenders. I want to be part of it.”

Maatta had options in unrestricted free agency, but he had an eye on Detroit from the start.

In Los Angeles last season, Maatta was teammates with former Wings Andreas Athanasiou and Troy Stecher. Both players gave glowing recommendations of the Wings’ organization.

“Athanasiou, I’m pretty good friends with him,” Maatta said. “He was there for a long time and he had nothing but good things to say about it — the organization and team, the guys, the staff. Stecher was another one.

“You talk a lot with your agent about teams that are available and where you want to go. I heard nothing bad about Detroit. It was all great things, how exciting the team is. And they definitely want to be a contender. I just want to be a part of it. It just felt right.”

Then there’s Yzerman, whose reputation as a GM after a Hall of Fame playing career, is beginning to carry substantial influence. Yzerman largely built the Tampa Bay Lightning into two-time Stanley Cup champions, and is in the beginning stages of reconstructing the Wings.

Nearly all the free agents the Wings signed mentioned how talking to Yzerman and listening to his pitch cemented their idea of signing with the team.

“When you look at how they built the team, and I know Steve Yzerman has done it before, how the young guys they’ve drafted, they’re young but already in the top players in the league,” Maatta said. “(Moritz) Seider, Larks (Dylan Larkin), (Tyler) Bertuzzi. Those guys and now you’re adding (David) Perron, Chiarot and Copper (Andrew Copp), and I definitely want to be part of it.”

Seider, in particular, is a young defenseman who caught Maatta’s eye.

The two could possibly be a pairing next season, blending Maatta’s defensive strengths with Seider’s offensive abilities. Filip Hronek is another option for Maatta to play with, as coach Derek Lalonde has possibilities to work with.

“He plays with an edge but he has a lot of skill and offense,” Maatta said of Seider, who won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. “He plays both ways. He’s an awesome player to watch. He’s already a great player and he’s gonna be a stud, so it’s just exciting to see that.”

For his part, Maatta feels he can supply more offense than he has the past several years. He notched 29 points two times earlier in his career but has dropped off since, including posting single digits the last two years with the Kings.

“I have more offense in my game, more than in the last couple of years, and it’s definitely something I’ve been working on,” Maatta said. “I’m known as a defensive guy but I have more offense in my game than my stats show.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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