CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It doesn’t seem to be a language barrier. Juuso Riikola’s English is pretty good. The Finnish defenseman who is challenging for a job with the Pittsburgh Penguins this training camp just seems reticent when asked about his game.
“I’m trying to do my best every day,” Riikola said Friday after the team held its morning skate at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in advance of its final preseason game Friday night at Columbus.
Did he foresee still being on the roster this close to the start of the regular season?
“Why not?” he said.
Riikola has probably been the surprise of camp with his all-around game. Asked about expectations he brought with him, he smiled slightly.
“I don’t have any,” he said. “I’m trying to do my best every day. That’s it.”
Riikola, 24, skated with fellow Finn Olli Maatta in the morning, and it’s likely that is where he will play against the Blue Jackets.
The Penguins need to make their final roster cuts by Tuesday, and Riikola understands the importance of his last shot at playing in a preseason game, but he has not gotten any feedback from club management on where he stands.
“No, not really,” he said. “Just the last preseason game, and I think after that I will know what’s going to happen.”
It would seem Riikola is vying for the No. 7 defenseman spot with incumbent Chad Ruhwedel since the addition of another free agent during the offseason, Jack Johnson, would make it particularly difficult for either to crack the top six barring injury.
Perhaps working against Riikola is his lack of experience playing in North America, but he feels as if he has fit in.
“Yeah. Does it seem like that?” he said.
“Of course there are always little things you need to do better, but it’s been pretty good. There’s always little things I need to do better.”
Even Riikola’s teammates have
“Riikola’s been a big surprise,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “Nobody knew. He came and he looked really strong. He’s a puck-moving defenseman, but he also wants to get his nose into it, which is fun to see.”
There has been some transition. On the ice, he has had to adjust to different things in practice.
“The drills in practice, they are hard,” he said. “You need to focus all the time. But you get used to it.”
Off the ice, Riikola also is fitting in.
“It’s been great. It’s a long time in a hotel, but not bad,” he said.