PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins rookie defenseman Juuso Riikola made his NHL debut in the Penguins 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Thursday. The moment was not lost on Riikola who has otherwise not been nervous or out of place with the NHL team. Riikola’s ebullience has been present since training camp and its only grown as he’s stuck around to prove his talent.
“I don’t know, it’s an amazing feeling putting on that shirt and go out there,” Riikola said as he searched for the words, in part because of the language barrier and in part because of appreciation for the moment. “It felt great.”
Riikola played over 18 minutes in his debut. He was held scoreless and wasn’t credited with a shot (though Pittsburgh Hockey Now believes that to be in error). Riikola was credited with four hits, including one on his first shift of the game.
Riikola had a couple successful battles with former Penguins tough guy Ryan Reaves deep in the Penguins zone. He almost chuckled as soon as Pittsburgh Hockey Now began to ask about going against one of the toughest players in the NHL.“We actually played against each other a lot in this game,” said Riikola.
Then he smiled broadly, “That was fun.”
The mischievous response brought an even bigger laugh from Penguin broadcaster Dan Potash. Riikola’s assessment of his game, however, was honest.
“We can be better with the puck. A lot better,” he said. “[sic] I need to give the puck a little quicker to the forwards, then support.”
Riikola jumped into the middle of the Vegas breakout on several occasions (See the full analysis of Riikola’s game, shift by shift, today with PHN Extra. Get a discounted annual subscription for just $22.50 with code: Riikola). His speed was obvious and Mike Sullivan fully detailed his game in new ways.
” I think you can see his intellect, his ability to process the game,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
Riikola will have to tighten up his game and be better with the puck if he hopes to take a sweater from the normally stable Olli Maatta. For at least one night, Riikola provided a flash into the future, which is indeed very bright.
See the full media scrum with Riikola on Pittsburgh Sports Live: