Olli Maatta

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Zawaski: How Much Can Olli Maatta Help Hawks?

The Blackhawks have a logjam on the blue line.

Jay Zawaski
June 17, 2019 - 2:12 pm

(670 The Score) On June 6, I reported the Blackhawks' top offseason priority was to acquire a top-four defenseman. On Saturday night, they traded forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round draft pick to the Penguins for defenseman Olli Maatta.

Is Maatta a top-four defenseman? Well, technically yes, because he’s a No. 4. 

Maatta fills a few needs for the Blackhawks. While he’s extremely slow of foot, he’s a willing shot blocker and dependable defender. His acquisition immediately improves the Blackhawks' penalty kill, which ranked dead last in the NHL this past season. It's worth remembering that the Blackhawks missed the playoffs by six points. Had they been an average penalty-killing unit in 2018-'19, they could've coasted in to a playoff spot. 

My main issue with the Maatta trade is the defensive logjam to which it adds. With Maatta, five of the six starting spots are filled. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy and Maatta are everyday starters. That leaves one slot for the recently re-signed Slater Koekkoek, restricted free agent Gustav Forsling, Carl Dahlstrom and Henri Jokiharju. The Blackhawks' top two prospects are both defensemen in Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin, and they're close to being NHL-ready. This doesn’t even begin to mention more-distant-but still-solid defensive prospects Dennis Gilbert, Chad Krys, Joni Tuulola and Blake Hillman. 

Something is going to have to give here. The Blackhawks need to move at least a couple of defensemen. Otherwise, they’ll have NHL players wasting away in the AHL because of a lack of available roster spots. 

The best-case scenario would be moving Seabrook, but that’s unlikely based on his $6.88 million annual salary, the five years left on the contract and his no-movement clause. A more realistic option may be to package Boqvist, Beaudin or even Jokiharju with a pick or player to acquire some proven NHL help.

With the NHL Draft beginning Friday, this could be an extremely busy week for the Blackhawks. While I’m told the Blackhawks are heavily leaning toward taking a center with their No. 3 overall pick, many analysts have Vancouver Giants defenseman Bowen Byram as the third-best prospect available. If Bowman and company draft him, they’re only adding to the logjam, especially considering Byram is seemingly ready to make the jump to the NHL right away. 

Hockey fans will want to be locked and loaded on the league’s draft coverage all weekend. Transaction season is here, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Once the roster is finally put together, we’ll have a better idea of how Maatta fits. Until then, we’ll mark this grade as INCOMPLETE. 

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon and a columnist for 670 The Score. He's also the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​