One week after signing depth right-side defenseman Chad Ruhwedel to an extension through 2021-22, the Pittsburgh Penguins dished the cash to depth left-side defenseman Juuso Riikola on Saturday. The Penguins gave Riikola, a two-year deal which will buy out one year of Riikola’s unrestricted free agency, according to Penguins GM Jim Rutherford.
Riikola, 26, will make $1 million this season and $1.3 next season. His cap hit will be the average of the two values, so he will count $1.15 million against the cap.
“When he is on his game, Juuso has shown the ability to be a solid contributor for our team,” said Rutherford. “We feel he is going to take the next step forward in his development.”
Riikola played in 36 games this season, including several games at forward. Injuries forced the Penguins coaches to insert Riikola as a fourth-line forward. The Finnish defenseman hasn’t yet consistently cracked the Penguins’ top-six defensemen in two years but he has remained in the NHL.
He scored seven points, including one goal.
Riikola played 37 games as a rookie, last season. He scored five points, including two goals.
Before the pandemic pause, Penguins team sources informed PHN that the Penguins were bullish on Riikola’s future, even though he was not in the lineup. Among the criticisms were defensive awareness and a feeling that Riiikola sometimes played too safe to the point of passive.
However, the Pittsburgh Penguins also believe Riikola has the potential to be an above-average NHL defenseman.