Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

2 Finns Merit Much Praise, Attention

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

2 Finns Merit Much Praise, Attention

Article excerpt

Aleksander Barkov has boomerang humor.

"He's funny," said Penguins defenseman and fellow Finn Olli Maatta. "He can say something that gets you thinking for a while, and, then when you get it, you're, like, 'Oh, you got me.' "

Barkov and Maatta were on opposite sides Monday night when the Florida Panthers played at Consol Energy Center, but they will be teammates next month at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Barkov, a hulking 18-year-old center, went into the game as Florida's leading scorer with 23 points. Maatta, 19, has established himself as a regular in the Penguins lineup. The two NHL rookies didn't know each other growing up in Finland, but they played on two world junior championships teams together and have an obvious admiration for one another's skills.

"He has no weakness," Barkov said of Maatta. "He's a very good skater. He has a very good shot, very good vision. He's a very good passer. Everything you would like to have."

Maatta, who entered the game with four goals, 16 points, was just as complimentary.

"He's a really skilled forward," Maatta said of Barkov. "He can make plays happen. He doesn't get enough credit for his defensive game. He's a really good all-around player. He sees the ice well. He knows where his teammates are going to be. As a defenseman, you've got to be really aware of him on the ice."

One of their teammates in Sochi will be Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen, who has spoken highly of Maatta all season and was just as effusive Monday concerning Barkov. Both were first-round NHL draft picks.

"I think it goes pretty much goes without saying they don't look like they are [teenagers]. They look like they are ... I don't know, 27, 28 years old," Jokinen said. "It's been fun to watch.

"Last season during the lockout, I played in the Finnish League, and I played two games against Barkov. I was playing center. He was playing center. We went head-to-head those two games. You could see he was already close to [being ready for] the NHL. …

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