But some bad news for the future of Jusso Riikola?
After today’s morning skate ahead of the game against the Islanders, Penguin coach Mike Sullivan offered a brief injury update.
Coach Sullivan on injured players: “Dumoulin, McCann, and Rodrigues skated on their own this morning. Riikola skated with the taxi squad. All of these guys are making progress. We will update you as they get closer.”
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 18, 2021
That’s some good news and a positive that all four members of the team that are currently on the injured reserve are making strides in their recovery with the first announcement that all have been on the ice on their own.
Dumoulin has been out since January 26th and is technically eligible to return from LTIR as soon as Saturday’s game. It looks unlikely he would be pushed that quickly to get back, as he still needs to be cleared for contact and then eventually given the green flag to get back into the lineup. But it’s still nice to see the process starting.
McCann has been out since getting hurt on February 6th and was later called “week-to-week” for his absence. So to see him on the ice in some capacity under two weeks after the injury is a nice tangible step.
Rodrigues has been out since getting hurt in a game on January 24th.
One interesting step is that Juuso Riikola was back, but with the taxi squad. On a game day practices are a bit different, but that’s not a great sign for Riikola to be at an arm’s length away. The emergence of Pierre-Olivier Joseph has to come at the expense of someone, and right now it is shaping up that someone is looking like Riikola as what could be the number five left-handed defenseman on a roster that might be able to squeeze four into a lineup but would have little need for a fifth.
This could be a cross-roads for Riikola and the organization should the team return to health. In the previous regime with Jim Rutherford, the Pens were willing to carry eight healthy defensemen (with Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel as extras). But that was before Joseph was in the picture. Keeping a ninth defenseman would be about impossible and still fit under the maximum of 23 player roster limit.
Riikola has a $1.15 million salary cap hit on a contract that runs for this season and next. To get on the taxi squad, he would need to be waived, giving every other NHL team a chance to claim him. Pittsburgh also is struggling up front, and a potential trade of Riikola for a fourth line forward could make sense too if the Pens found a taker.
Riikola’s tenuous looking situation on the fringes on the roster aside, the Pens would certainly benefit from getting a couple of key pieces like Dumoulin and McCann back into the lineup and (whispers) approach full strength with no injuries/absences for the first time all season.