Goodbye, Juuso Riikola.
In honor of the Penguins’ defenseman signing with the Swedish hockey league, let’s look back at some of his highlights as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
Riikola first came onto the radars of most Penguins fans during the 2018 preseason, when he scored two goals and two assists, including this beauty below, in six preseason games.
This preseason performance earned Riikola a surprise roster spot, where he averaged almost 17 minutes of ice time over 20 games through the first three months of the 2018-19 season. It also inspired one of the best Penguins’ goal calls of all time.
Hopefully the first of many. The kid has skills. pic.twitter.com/uiRT72kxZ6— Ryan Mill (@RyanMill) September 22, 2018
Riikola scored his first regular-season NHL goal at Enterprise Center in St. Louis with a power-play laser from the point on December 29, 2018. The Penguins went on to claim a 6-1 victory over the Blues.
The next season, Penguins fans were introduced to left-winger Riikola. When five Penguins forwards were out with injury before a game against the Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins decided to list Riikola as a winger rather than a defenseman on October 17, 2019. He skated for 6:27 on a fourth line with Joseph Blandisi and Adam Johnson during the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win.
The Penguins on the position switch, via Michelle Crechiolo of Pens Inside Scoop:
“How the rink looks when you’re a forward, it’s a lot different. You just go there and try to do your best.” —Juuso Riikola
“It’s obviously tough when you play years and years at your position and you’ve just got to jump into something else. I think he did a good job. It was fun.” —Adam Johnson
“His head had to have been spinning. Figuring out the neutral zone, how he’s in on the forecheck, trying to identify which guy he’s going after - I thought he did really good.” —Teddy Blueger
“I wish he didn’t cut his hair, because when he was flying down the wing in practice (on Tuesday) with his flow, it looked majestic. He looked good in practice the day before, and he was scoring goals.” —Zach Aston-Reese
“We were all talking and said that Juuso would probably be the best forward out of all of us, to be honest. He’s reliable, a really good skater, so it’s pretty cool.” —Brian Dumoulin
A few weeks later, Riikola helped the Penguins to one of their most impressive comebacks of the season. The Penguins headed into the third period against the host New York Islanders on November 7, 2019, down by three goals. But after Jared McCann and Bryan Rust both scored within five minutes to get the Penguins within one, Juuso Riikola flung the puck on goal with 11 minutes left in regulation. Evgeni Malkin scored on the rebound to tie the game, which Rust won in overtime.
Then, during back-to-back away-and-home games against the Nashville Predators on December 27 and 28, 2019, Riikola racked up four points (1-3—4), including a neat clean-up of his own rebound.
The Penguins didn’t see much of Riikola after he signed his two-year contract extension in 2020, but his smooth skating, juicy rebounds, cough-drop call and brief career as a forward will stay in the minds of Penguins fans. Good luck in Sweden, Juuso!