Kovacevic: A fine return, indeed, for Maatta ☕


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Dominik Kahun. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

"My stomach was upset for two days."

That was Jim Rutherford, a passionate, emotional man, telling me Saturday night about trading Olli Maatta, two-time Stanley Cup champion and an even bigger winner in life.

"This is a tough one," Rutherford continued. "Talking to Olli ... not only do I respect what he did for us in those two Cups, what he's meant to us as a player. But the person that this is ... it was tough."

I don't doubt it for a second. There's one of that kid, and he'll be missed by many.

But I'm also not doubting Rutherford went the right way here.

The Penguins sent Maatta to the Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun, a 23-year-old, 5-11, 175-pound right winger fresh off a 37-point rookie season, and a fifth-round pick in the imminent 2019 NHL Draft. No cash was known to have exchanged hands, which means the Penguins also will add $3.158 million in cap space. Maatta will make $4.083 million each of the next three seasons. Kahun will make $925,000 next season, after which he can become a restricted free agent.

The key, obviously, is Kahun. And that's where Rutherford's tone lightened considerably.

"This is a good hockey player coming off a really good season," Rutherford told me, "and we're excited to see what he can do for us for a variety of reasons."

Variety is a good way to put it: Kahun's breakdown was 13 goals and 24 assists in 82 games, averaging 14:09 of ice time, as well as a plus-10 rating that was best among all Chicago forwards. He can play any position up front -- "The Hawks signed him as a center, but he told me he really likes right wing," Rutherford said -- he participated on both the power-play and penalty-killing units, and he bounced up and down the depth chart, Bryan Rust style, frequently skating alongside Jonathan Toews on the top line.

And don't overlook the 82 games: Kahun and the Penguins' Marcus Pettersson were among just six NHL rookies to have played all 82 games. (Pettersson actually played 84 because of his in-season trade from the Ducks.)

I asked Rutherford to outline Kahun's skill set, and he replied, "First off, he can skate. He's fast. And he's got really good hands. And he's responsible defensively. He's got the speed and skill you want up front, but he'll also take care of the puck."

Kahun was born in Plana, Czech Republic, but moved to Germany and has represented the latter at the international level, including a silver medal in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Before signing with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent May 21, 2018 -- similar to how the Penguins added Juuso Riikola last summer -- Kahun spent four seasons with EHC Munich in Germany’s top league, winning the championship each of his final three seasons. In his four seasons in Munich, he produced 39 goals and 72 assists over 157 regular-season games.

How does that slip through a seven-round draft?

"Some guys are late bloomers," Rutherford answered that question. "That's what Kahun's been. He's come a long way, and that's to his credit."

Maatta, who'll turn 25 in August, was the Penguins' first-round pick, 22nd overall, in 2012, and matured quickly into a heady, consistent, two-way defenseman, then a prominent contributor to both championships under Mike Sullivan. Along the way, he overcame significant obstacles, from a bout with thyroid cancer in 2014, to major injuries to his hip and shoulder. He did all of that with class and a smile, blossoming into a popular figure inside and outside the team's world.

There were on-ice struggles, too. He appeared to have lost a step in his stride, though all concerned denied -- Maatta most vehemently -- that it was the case or that he might have been affected in any way by his various injuries and ailments. His final game with the Penguins, most unfortunately, wound up ranking among his worst, after which he was a healthy scratch the rest of the way.

That, plus the Penguins' glut of left-handed defensemen and Maatta's potential value toward a real hockey return, made it clear he was most likely to go, as I'd been reporting for a couple months.

So, now what?

Well, here's the current depth chart on defense, at least as I see it within the context of pairs:


I brought up a handful of other issues with Rutherford that I'll share in bullet form:

• On whether he feels he still has to make a move on defense: "No, I don't think we have to. I would suspect as we go along here that Pettersson will continue to move up in the lineup. He's shown us he's capable of that. But we can start the season this way, sure, and we're in a better spot than when we started the season last year."

• On whether it was a good market for Maatta: "I'd say so. Olli's a champion. And he'd be a good fit on any team."

• On how long talks had been ongoing with Chicago: "Not too long. I'd say it came together fairly quickly."

• On how he plans to utilize the cap space: "That's really hard to say right now because of other things that have to take place between now and July 1," the start of free agency. "I'd say that what this move did was to get us where we need to be. We'll see where that takes us."

• On how he feels, in general, about making more moves: "I'm open to ideas. That's the best answer I can give."

He's off to a fast -- and fresh-faced and skilled -- start.

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