Player: Juuso Riikola
Born: November 9, 1993 (25-years-old)
Birthplace: Joensuu, Finland
Weight: 189 pounds
Contract: Cap hit of $925,000 in 2018-19. Signed a 1-year, one-way contract on May 30, 2019. The contract carries an AAV of $850,000.
Regular Season History
After spending all of his career in his native Finland, Juuso Riikola was attracting interest from teams across the pond. He decided to take his talents to
South Beach Pittsburgh to join the Penguins.
Many fans’ first glimpse of Riikola came in the ‘18-19 preseason. Chatter coming from the coaches at training camp was pretty positive as Riikola began to adjust to the North American game. Riikola came right out of the gate in the first preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres and scored a goal while logging 19:41 of ice time. This offensive flare did not dissipate.
By preseason’s end, Riikola had amassed 4 points through six games and it soon became evident that coaches just could not send the defender to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for more seasoning. First impressions are always the most important, and making the NHL roster out of camp and preseason after playing in Finland is one way to say hello to everyone.
However, Riikola couldn’t sustain his magical start, even if he was playing a lot of minutes early on. A sub-50% CF% and FF% (45.3% and 46.1% respectively) isn’t a great number when analyzing puck possession for a player’s team.
Riikola only played in 37 games for the Penguins, and didn’t take the ice at all after March 2 in a win over the Canadiens.
Riikola did not participate in the 2018-19 NHL playoffs.
Game of the Season
For a game of the season, I would pick the contest against the St. Louis Blues on December 29, 2018. Riikola would score his first career NHL goal on the power-play, which would end up being the game-winner for Pittsburgh. A nice rip of a slapper.
Chart from Charting Hockey
The chart above shows that Riikola wasn’t a super bright spot when it came to shot rates. Falling inside the “dull” and “bad” categories isn’t a good look. He and his primary partner, Olli Maatta, were both detrimental to their team’s success.
Data from hockeyviz
This chart gives an overall view of Riikola’s game history. And it’s... meh? Like the above shot rate chart, this data gives us a look at goals and shots per 60 minutes played. Simply put, Riikola was on the ice for more shots and goals against than for and that’s not a great sign when you’re trying to win games.
This is another way to view shot rates for Riikola and the Penguins. Taking the two massive differences in minutes played with and without Riikola into account, I’d still say this is an accurate description of Riikola being a below average defender during the season.
With Riikola on the ice and in his own zone, opposing teams weren’t afraid to take their chances shooting the biscuit. The advanced data isn’t at all in Riikola’s favor, and the on-ice play backs up the claim. It’s not the worst thing you’ve ever seen, but not great either.
Riikola looks to come into the new season and act as a reserve body whenever injury strikes the D corps. Just looking at the depth chart already, with the likes of Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Jack Johnson and Marcus Pettersson on the left side, there is very little room for Riikola to play at the moment.
With the new contract being announced yesterday, combined with the Penguins’ history of keeping one-way NHL players with the big club, Riikola looks to be in a 7/8 defenseman role unless a trade(s) is made before the start of the new campaign. However, it’s never a bad thing to have too much defensive depth.
If Riikola improves on the possession front, and impresses in camp and preseason once again, history could repeat itself. At the same time, with the question marks surrounding the likes of Maatta and Johnson in regards to a potential trade, Riikola may find himself competing for that bottom pairing role.
Worst Case 2019-20
If Riikola doesn’t take too kindly to a reserve role or doesn’t take the third pairing job by himself, and doesn’t want to waste away eating nachos in a suit, does the possibility of ending this experiment altogether come into play and Riikola goes back to his home country? Possibly, but I would consider this the extreme scenario.
What do you think the 2019-20 season holds for Juuso Riikola? Will he crack the top-6 of Pittsburgh’s squad? Will he be watching games from a suite during most games? Sound off in the comments down below.
What grade would you give Juuso Riikola for the 2018-19 season?
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