Juuso Riikola was the unquestioned star of the 2018 Pittsburgh Penguins training camp. The unknown and undrafted free agent from Finland was 24-years-old and wowed everyone with his speed and gritty play.
He made the team out of camp and played most of the Penguins’ first 40 games.
Three years ago, that stretch of being in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup still represents nearly half of Riikola’s 77-game NHL experience.
It’s been a tough spot for Riikola, who humorously grew a mustache for training camp. Former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford didn’t believe he would clear waivers, so Riikola stuck in Pittsburgh as a depth defenseman, unable to hone his craft or truly adjust to the North American game through game action.
Riikola, 28, cleared waivers later last season, but teams had the luxury of taxi squads and readily available depth defenseman.
In an unscientific poll conducted on Twitter by our Editor-in-Chief Dan Kingerski, Penguins fans were split down the middle on Saturday morning as 51% believed Riikola would clear waivers, but 49% voted that a team would claim him.
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) October 9, 2021
The Saturday morning vote began to shift towards Riikola staying and the votes moved towards a 55-45 split in that direction.
For the 2021-22 NHL season, the NHL pushed its daily waiver wire deadline to 2 p.m. EST. So, we will all learn Riikola’s fate then.
Riikola is in the second year of a two-year, $2.3 million deal. NHL teams may bury up to $1.05 million in the AHL, so Riikola will count $100,000 against the Penguins cap if he clears.
Earlier in the preseason, head coach Mike Sullivan expressed some sympathy for Riikola’s bad luck last season. Injuries hit the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line hard, and Riikola had an opportunity to play for weeks. However, he, too, suffered an injury and was unavailable.
It was perhaps his last best shot to play significant time with the Penguins.
“Juuso got a real stroke of bad luck last year when we got banged up early in the season in that position–You know, I think Juuso would have had a great opportunity to play and play a significant amount of games, and he ended up getting hurt himself,” Sullivan said. “Unfortunately, it robbed him of that opportunity.”
Voting in the poll closes at 10 a.m. EST.