The Penguins have kept one of their depth defensemen in the fold as they announced that they’ve signed Juuso Riikola to a two-year contract. The deal carries an AAV of $1.15MM, a small increase on the $850K he received this season and takes him into unrestricted free agency at its expiration. GM Jim Rutherford released the following statement about the move:
When he is on his game, Juuso has shown the ability to be a solid contributor for our team. We feel he is going to take the next step forward in his development.
The 26-year-old played in 36 games for the Penguins this season. He was mostly in a reserve role but was called into action when injuries arose. When Pittsburgh had several forwards go down, he wound up suiting up as a winger for four of those games. Overall, he had a goal and six assists on the season along with 74 hits while averaging just shy of 14 minutes per night.
Riikola, who came to Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2018, could have a chance at earning more of a regular role next season. Rutherford confirmed this week that Justin Schultz will not be returning which will free up a spot on the depth chart. However, Riikola may have to get used to playing his off-side as he will remain behind lefties in Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson while veteran Jack Johnson also is in the mix. If Riikola can adapt to playing on the right side, he might very well be able to take that next step forward in his development. Otherwise, he may be reprising his role as a seventh defender heading into next season.
Pittsburgh now has roughly $8MM in cap space for next season with both of their goalies and multiple forwards (highlighted by Jared McCann) in need of new contracts.