There’s a new site on the NHL analytics block called Corsica.hockey. Like other stats sites you can find skater, goalie and team stats all there but towards the bottom of the main page there’s a fun special feature. In this feature you type in a player’s name and a date range and out pops other players with similar stats. They’ll list the stats for that player then list the guys in the NHL by percentage of similarity.
Sidney Crosby’s highest match of similarity is Evgeni Malkin. Evgeni Malkin’s is? Sidney Crosby.
Following his 6-year extension, I decided to look at the numbers for Penguins third year player Olli Maatta using this system to get a feel for not only who he plays like now but who he could trend to play like as he ages. Needless to say it was pretty interesting. Maatta is 21 and was due to become a restricted free agent this summer. The team decided not to wait for the off-season, though, and locked the native of Jyväskylä, Finland up through what will be his ninth NHL season in 2021-2022.
So what did the numbers say?
The similarity index, based on a variety of statistics, ranks Olli Maatta as around 98% the same as both Brent Seabrook and Hamphus Lindholm. These are two great names to be mentioned alongside for Maatta. As Lindholm and Maatta are both in their third NHL seasons, the Seabrook comparison is a little more intriguing as a mark for the kind of player Maatta will likely develop into.
Seabrook produces an average of 1.17 points per game while Maatta produces a slightly lower 1.11. The shooting percentage for Maatta (3.8%) is still slightly inflated from his rookie season when goalies didn’t know just how offensively gifted he was. Seabrook’s slightly lower number there (3.3%) is probably more what Maatta’s will look like over time, but this isn’t necessarily a given. Seabrook, for all of his many talents, doesn’t have one tool that Maatta does. That is the uncanny ability to get the puck on net like it’s magnetized to the goalie. While plenty of players get the puck close (and sometimes Maatta’s shots are low danger ones right into the logo or trapper) there is something to be said for a 21 year-old who can shoot the puck from center red that’s hard and true enough to force goalies to make a save on what could be a harmless dump in (just ask the Buffalo Sabres, who recently scored on one of these harmless shots when the goalie flubbed it). These shots are important when guys like Hornqvist and Kunitz are buzzing around the net like bees. These shots are important on the PK and against goalies who are off their angles. They can lead to big rebounds and extended zone time.
That’s the first reason Maatta got six years. The Finnish blueliner isn’t even done developing, but plays a style that skates the line between safe and creative like the best power play QB in the NHL. But that just his skill set. Another huge part of this equation was locking up a defense partner for Kris Letang long-term and essentially welcoming him to the core of the team.
The two defenders, who have overcome off-ice obstacles and are very close, share both a kinship and chemistry. Maatta also brings a cool and relaxed yin to the often fiery yang of Letang. Some games, the 21 year old is the coolest head on the Penguins’ ice and it isn’t even close. This is important when you’re facing down guys like Ovechkin or Brandon Dubinsky.
Not to mention the chemistry between the highly talented teammates will only strengthen over time. Perhaps Maatta’s biggest flaw right now is his decision to defer to Letang. Though the Finn is also offensively explosive he usually lets Letang, a juggernaut in that sense, control the offensive aspect of their pairing’s game. That will begin to see itself worked out as he settles in with Kris long term and the French Canadian reminds him he’s allowed to go for it, too.
On the downside he’s got minor issues right now with his skating. Plenty have begun to call it being slow or not conditioned, but what’s more likely is two-fold. First of all, he hasn’t finished a season since 2013-2014 when he was a rookie running on bouts of adrenaline. Second of all, this is his first season with Letang, who would make seven out of every 10 skaters look slow and he’s facing far more intimidating match-ups. Another thing to consider with this is his physical size (which somehow no one seems to remember). Olli, at 6’2″, is considerably larger than Kris who is a solid 5’11”. The stride for taller guys is mechanically different (watch Malkin rush up ice versus Crosby and you’ll see what I mean) so that needs to be considered as well. He will take less strides but they will get him farther.
But the real reason they locked the youngster up so quick? Because the team knows he will be in a position very quickly to ask for much much more. The current trajectory and his comparative (Seabrook) show that he’s going to deserve far more than the $4 million the team has pledged to him for the next six seasons. If he hit the open market as a free agent when he got the first chance in four years with the new salary cap rules? He would easily fetch in the $6-7 million a year range. Instead, he will stay here in the town where he attended his NHL entry draft and was drafted by the host city. The only American city he’s ever called home. That’s a hometown discount and in 2020, it’s one we will all be glad he took.