Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Import Riikola Is Getting Work with Penguins Top Defensemen

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Import Riikola Is Getting Work with Penguins Top Defensemen

Article excerpt

Justin Schultz had never heard of Juuso Riikola when the Penguins signed the Finnish defenseman this spring. Ditto for Jimmy Hayes, who still doesn't know much about the team's new blue-liner, though Riikola, who was not drafted into the NHL, is on his radar now.

"Crazy how they find guys," Hayes, a big forward, said. "That's what you got to do, though. That's what they pay the scouts for, right?"

Riikola, 24, earned at least a few fans among the Penguins scouting staff while skating for KalPa Kuopio of the SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league. Assistant general manager Bill Guerin even flew across the Atlantic Ocean last season to get a live look at him.

The 6-foot, 189-pound defenseman debuted at 19 in the SM-liiga and played six seasons in the league. This past season, Riikola scored eight goals and added 16 assists.

After KalPa Kuopio's season ended and then Riikola and Finland were knocked out of the 2018 IIHF World Championships in Denmark in May, Riikola set his sights on the NHL. The Penguins pounced.

"One of the reasons that we tried to go after him aggressively as we did is that we believe he's one of those types of defensemen that can play the game we're trying to play," coach Mike Sullivan said Friday. "He's a mobile guy. He's a good puck-mover."

Sullivan said Riikola was "a sought-after free agent." So, why did he choose Pittsburgh?

"It's a great group of players, a good organization and coaches and stuff," Riikola said Saturday. "They wanted me to come here, so that was a big thing for me. I think this was the right choice."

It didn't hurt that Olli Maatta, a fellow Finn, is on the squad, too.

The two have golfed a couple of times -"The courses are great here," Riikola adds -but have not yet been paired together on the ice.

Instead, in the first two days of camp, Riikola usually skated with Kris Letang or Brian Dumoulin. …

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