The Pittsburgh Penguins have apparently done some scouting of the World Championships and liked something they’ve seen.
Finland’s loss is Pittsburgh’s gain. Sources say the Pens have agreed to terms with Finnish Dman, Juuso Riikola. Left shot. 24 yrs old.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 17, 2018
Riikola seems to be listed consistently at 6’0 and 190 pounds. As Dreger mentioned he is a 24 year old who shoots left handed. Riikola has come up through the system and spent his whole pro career to date with the hockey club KalPa and has spent the past six seasons playing in the SM-Liiga, the top league in Finland. He has spent the last three seasons as an alternate captain, per Elite Prospects. Riikola recorded 8 goals and 16 assists in 59 games this season, which doesn’t pop off the page, but was #2 on his team among defensemen. KalPa only had two players score more than 30 points (with the team-leader having 39) so a reminder that points and seasons are much different in Europe than what North American fans might think of when they see a stat-line.
As we touched on above, Riikola is representing the Finns in the currently ongoing World Championship tournament where he has no goals and two assists (and a +4 plus/minus rating) in eight games so far. Riikola’s past international experience means a connection with a new teammate, as he played on the Finnish 2013 WJC U-20 team alongside Pens defenseman Olli Maatta.
Adding some sort of defensive talent is a much needed move for Pittsburgh, who has no real NHL prospects in their minor league system and a lower pair of defense that includes restricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak, serviceable but unspectacular Chad Ruhwedel and veteran disappointment Matt Hunwick.
We don’t have official confirmation from the Penguins just yet, but due to Riikola’s age he will receive an entry-level contract. Therefore the maximum his salary cap hit could be is $925,000 at the NHL level and will not count against the Pens NHL salary cap if he is unable to make the team and assigned to the AHL. It is also possible, if not likely, that the team may have been able to sign him for less than the max.
I don’t see much in way of a scouting report anywhere on the internet so we’ll just move on and wait to see how much of a chance that Riikola may have to make the NHL team out of camp, but one would think if he wanted to come to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh wanted him, there could be at least a shot that Riikola is in the Pens plans or will have an opportunity to prove himself. It’s doubtful this will be an all-star signing, and perhaps Riikola doesn’t even play a single NHL game. But if he’s nothing else but added depth for the organization, it’s still a nice signing to put in their back pocket as the off-season and players movement is set to begin.
UPDATE: Here’s some more info
A very good, modern defenseman. High mobility, very good gap control, can play physical, very efficient with the stick. Also decent offensive game. No doubt he could be on Pens opening night roster next fall. #LetsGoPens #PittsburghPenguins #Penguins #NHLfi https://t.co/G7guAJt15E— FinnProspects (@FinnProspects) May 17, 2018
As you would expect, a twitter account called “Finn Prospects” is somewhat high on Riikola. But, better to be high than low, I suppose. It’s also been reported Riikola was playing upwards of 20 minutes a night in all situations and I’ve seen it written more than once that he is a good skater and solid defensively.
And in the for what it’s worth a youtube highlight reel