11/13/2014 04:40 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST

Maatta skates with Penguins following removal of cancerous tumour

TORONTO - Olli Maatta skated with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday for the first time since having surgery to remove a tumour in his thyroid gland that turned out to be cancerous.

Maatta, a 20-year-old defenceman from Finland, insisted he felt normal and believes he could be back on the ice sooner rather than later.

"I want to come back tomorrow," Maatta said after practice. "But I've got to take it easy first. I have to make sure I'm 100 per cent and can help the team when I come back."

Maatta was able to continue playing hockey until his Nov. 4 surgery. The team said he would return within four weeks of the operation, which was performed by head and neck surgeon Dr. Robert Ferris at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Coach Mike Johnston said Maatta was ahead of schedule to return to game action.

"The way it looks right now, he'll definitely be back before the four-week window," Johnston said. "I would expect if he reacts positively to the skate today and the doctors take a look at him over the next day or so, he can be back any time in the next five, six days."

Maatta brushed off concern about the tumour and its removal, saying there was "nothing but a scar" as a result.

"I look at it as a bump on the road," the 2012 first-round pick said. "It's really good that we found it early. It hasn't really bothered me before. It's not going to bother me again.

"It's just another bump in the road. I got over it. I can start playing hockey again."

Maatta skated on his own following the Penguins' morning skate at Madison Square Garden in New York on Tuesday. This was another step in his road back.

"He took part in most of the drills, he's starting to build up," Johnston said. "We'll see how he reacts after this skate. I know they want to be cautious just for a few days just to make sure everything's fine with him."


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