Niskanen happy to re-sign with Penguins

When Matt Niskanen entered training camp last September after being acquired from Dallas in a trade the previous season, he knew the battle amongst the Pittsburgh defensemen for roster spots would be fierce.

Iron Range native Matt Niskanen re-signed with the Penguins on Saturday, inking his name to a two-year deal that will pay him $4.6 million. (2011 file / Associated Press)

When Matt Niskanen entered training camp last September after being acquired from Dallas in a trade the previous season, he knew the battle amongst the Pittsburgh defensemen for roster spots would be fierce.

"We've got a lot of depth in this organization on defense," Niskanen said at the time. "I'll earn my spot on the team for playing time."

Well, not only did Niskanen earn his spot -- he earned a new contract.

On Saturday, the Penguins announced they had re-signed the 25-year-old blueliner to a two-year deal that will run through the 2013-14 campaign and has an annual average value of $2.3 million ($2.1 million next season and $2.5 million the following year).

"I'm just thrilled right now," said the former Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl and Minnesota Duluth standout. "I'm happy that they wanted me back and I'm glad we were able to get a deal done."


Entering this summer, Niskanen was a restricted free agent. If both sides hadn't reached an agreement by noon today, he would have become an unrestricted free agent and able to sign with any team he wanted.

But the only place he wanted to be, he said, was Pittsburgh.

"The day I got traded there, I knew I was going to a good organization, a good place," he said. "From the moment I got there, just the way (I was) treated and how the guys were, I knew this was going to be the place for me. It's home now. I feel like it's where I belong. Everything has gone really, really well for me. I've absolutely loved my time there so far and I'm just excited to have the opportunity to play two more years there."

Niskanen played two seasons for the Bulldogs and earned Western Collegiate Hockey Association first-team honors after scoring nine goals and 22 assists in 39 games as a sophomore (2006-07). He played for the Dallas Stars from 2007 to early 2011.

Although Niskanen believed from the moment he arrived in Pittsburgh in February 2011 that the Penguins would be an ideal fit for him, it's still tough to deal with the shock of being traded and the difficulties of getting used to a brand-new organization mid-season.

But after having all of last summer to get situated before getting a full training camp, Niskanen went on to develop into one of the Penguins' most consistent and reliable defenders in his first full season with Pittsburgh.

"I thought I took a step forward with my game last season," he said, crediting the Penguins coaching staff -- especially assistant coach Todd Reirden -- with spending a lot of extra time with him to help him improve. "Personally, I thought it went pretty well. I played much better, more consistent throughout the season from game to game and I was pleased with my progress."

Niskanen's game isn't flashy, and his value can't be necessarily quantified by goals and points -- though he can contribute offensively as he scored four goals and tallied 17 assists last season for the Penguins. What makes him so essential to the Penguins defense is the steadiness and calming influence he brings to the ice every day.


"As a defenseman, I think it's a compliment when someone says you're a real consistent player," he said. "I think that's what younger players sometimes struggle with, and I struggled with that a few seasons ago. I always strive to be consistent game to game and throughout the season. I think that's going to be my goal again this year: have another consistent year and just be a steady defenseman that can chip in offensively when I can. I'll shoot for that again."

Apart from his all-around consistency, Niskanen also showed his grit and character last season when he battled through a shoulder issue to put up a gutsy performance in the 2012 playoffs, scoring a goal and dishing out a pair of assists in four games.

Niskanen, who spends his offseasons in northern Minnesota and is currently training there, said the shoulder "has come along nicely.

"I'm getting a full range of motion again and I'm getting my strength back," he continued. "It's taking some time, but it's on the right track for recovery and I should be 100 percent in plenty of time for training camp. The rest of my body feels really good. Training is going well and I'm anxious to get back on the ice here pretty soon."

The News Tribune contributed to this story.

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