Why new Detroit Red Wings D Olli Määttä sees an opportunity to show ‘I have more in me’

Detroit Free Press

Olli Määttä showed great promise as a teenager: He was a first-round draft pick in 2012 at 17, and was named to the Finland’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics at 19.

Now he’s in the prime of his career, age-wise, and eyeing the Detroit Red Wings as an opportunity to turn a one-year, $2.25 million contract into a career revival. Määttä, who turns 28 in August, was among general manager Steve Yzerman’s free-agency additions, brought in to strengthen the Wings’ top-four defense corps.

“Guys I talked to were pretty astute,” Yzerman said. “They did their homework, where we’re at, what their role is going to be.”

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Määttä (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) and fellow free-agent signing Ben Chiarot (6-3, 234) both shoot left and project to pair with right-side defenders Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek. Yzerman described Määttä and Chiarot as “defense-first defenders, bigger bodies that get in the way, are hard to play against, can block shots.”

Määttä was sold on being part of Yzerman’s rebuilding plans.

“I have to be honest with myself about where I’m at — last couple seasons haven’t been that great,” Määttä said. “I know I have a lot more in me. I think this is a great opportunity to show that I do have a lot more in me, that I can play in this league for a long time and in a bigger role than I’ve had the last couple seasons. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Detroit. I do heartily believe that when the team is good and everything clicks, everybody just looks better. It’s an exciting team, and good team. Having a new coaching staff, a really good culture that everybody wants to win.”

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The Wings look the best they have since Yzerman was named GM in April 2019, with an influx of talent at all three positions. Seider, the 2022 NHL rookie of the year, boosted the offense the Wings got from the back end, and while Määttä was primarily added for his defensive game, his history shows he can contribute points, too. He twice reached 20 assists during his six seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted him 22nd overall. Määttä had 13 assists in 2018-19 with the Penguins and again the next season with the Chicago Blackhawks, but has just 11 assists combined the last two seasons, both spent with the Los Angeles Kings.

“I know my stats the last two years aren’t that good but I know I have more offense in my game than there has been,” Määttä said. “But the first mentality is I go out there and keep my own goal clean.”

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Määttä is a veteran of 534 NHL games (136 points, plus-70 rating) and was part of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and ’17. He has a bronze medal from the Sochi Olympics.

Määttä grew up admiring  Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom, and just missed out on the opportunity to play against him in the NHL.

“I haven’t met him,” Määttä said. “He retired the year before I got in the league. I was kind of sad about that.”

Määttä laughed when told plenty of people in Detroit were kind of sad when Lidstrom retired, too. Määttä at least has the opportunity to meet his former idol now, since Lidstrom is part of Yzerman’s front-office brain trust. Määttä’s intention is to extend his relationship with the Wings beyond one year.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “They are young but when you look at the players they already had and now adding a bunch of big pieces, it’s an exciting time. You can definitely see it. They are up and coming and they want to be contenders and I want to be a part of it.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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