The Pittsburgh Penguins are already loaded at the defense position, but the team is finding it harder and harder not to notice Finnish defenseman Juuso Riikola, who has dominated the preseason with his impressive play. The 24-year-old did it again today with a highlight-reel goal (link here) in a 7-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, it isn’t just his offense, a few minutes later Riikola made an impressive defensive play on the other end of the ice.
“His hockey sense jumps out at you,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a real good puck mover. He can skate. He’s a mobile guy. What’s really surprised me is his willingness to embrace the physical aspect of the game. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in battles, and he’s done a real good job in that regard.”
Jonathan Bombulie of the Tribune Review writes that while it’s hard to imagine Riikola bumping one of the team’s top-six defensemen, his well-rounded game may be having Pittsburgh management consider keeping eight defensemen instead of holding onto 14 forwards.
“We’ll let the training camp play out,” Sullivan said. “But certainly, he’s a guy that has raised eyebrows and he’s going to make decisions for the coaching staff very difficult.”
- Brian Hedger of NHL.com writes that Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has made it his mission to try to figure out how to harness the speed and skill that winger Anthony Duclair has and how to take those abilities and turn him into a dominant NHL player. Duclair who is already on his fourth team at the age of 23 has struggled since his rookie campaign when he netted 20 goals. Since then, his totals have decreased to five in his sophomore campaign and 11 between two teams last year. “I need to watch,” Tortorella said. “Why is this his fourth team? I need to ask that question. Why? Maybe I can find out by watching and maybe I can help him by watching, to maybe have him stop some habits that made this happen, as far as him bouncing around. This guy here, talking to a couple of his [former] teammates, there’s so much there. I think we have to take a little responsibility to try to get it out of him, but it has to be a two-way street [and] he has to give too. So, we’ll see where it goes.”
- Michael Smith of NHL.com writes that Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour has been quite impressed with goaltender Petr Mrazek, who has been sharp in two consecutive outings, though he’s only faced 19 shots in 70 minutes so far. Is that enough to choose a starter? “Well, for me it certainly is,” Brind’Amour joked. “For him, I don’t know. He’s looked good from day one, and he looked good again tonight. Just real calm in there. The one goal he had zero chance on. It was a breakdown on our part.”
- After struggling early in preseason, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg is slowly working his way back “up to speed,” according to NHL.com. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been impressed with the physicality that the 6-foot-2, 204-pounder brings, but has worked Hagg hard on other areas of his game that have been weak, including managing gaps and being more clean with the puck. Hakstol has frequently played Hagg in the preseason, so he can work on those key skills.