Penguins training camp sensation Juuso Riikola set for NHL debut
Based on personnel groupings at morning skate, training camp standout Juuso Riikola is on track to make his NHL debut Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Vegas Golden Knights.
Riikola practiced with the team’s top six all week and was among the first defensemen off the ice at the end of morning skate.
Olli Maatta and Chad Ruhwedel were the last defensemen on the ice, which typically indicates they will be healthy scratches.
“I don’t want to think too much about the game, but I’ll be ready,” Riikola said.
Riikola, a 24-year-old rookie who was among the top-scoring defensemen in the Finnish league each of the past two seasons, has been remarkably calm during his first training camp in North America.
None of the normal transition points – making an adjustment to the smaller North American ice or taking part in his first NHL practice or exhibition game – seemed to rattle him in the least.
“I think it’s more like you just focus on what you need to do, your own job on the ice,” Riikola said. “Don’t think too much.”
His teammates have noticed his seemingly unflappable demeanor.
“He’s Finnish. I feel like that’s how Finnish guys are. Just like cold-blooded,” Czech winger Dominik Simon said. “They’re fun. It’s great for him. He’s excited for sure, but trying to keep it cool, I guess.”
Simon compared it to his first NHL game in March of 2016.
“I was nervous, man,” Simon said. “It was at Madison Square Garden. I remember before the game, I heard the girl practicing the anthem. I was like, “Holy (expletive). It already sounds so good.’” Once you step on the ice, it’s all good. You’ve done it since you were young. But before, yeah, you’re nervous.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.