Juuso Riikola stays, Zach Aston-Reese goes as Penguins make final cuts

October 3, 2018

The Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese skates with the secone line as Daniel Sprong skates with the top line during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made their final round of roster cuts Monday, sending winger Zach Aston-Reese and defenseman Zach Trotman to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

The moves leave the Penguins with 24 players on the NHL roster, but they don’t need to make further cuts to get to the 23-man limit by Tuesday’s deadline. They could place one or more of their injured players - defenseman Brian Dumoulin, goalie Tristan Jarry or winger Daniel Sprong - on the injured reserve list.

Aston-Reese is a promising young winger who was at a disadvantage in the battle to make the opening-night roster because he doesn’t have to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL.

His performance in training camp didn’t force management to work around that fact.

“We don’t think it hurts for a guy like him to get a handful of games playing a lot of minutes in critical situations to get his confidence back, to get his swagger to his game back,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We don’t see any downside in that process.

“As I said to Zach, by no means does this diminish what we think of him as a player. We know he’s an NHL player. We know he’s a guy that’s going to help this Pittsburgh Penguins team win. We talked for a long time about that decision before it was made, and part of that decision was what we think is best for Zach’s overall development as a player.”

Training camp standout Juuso Riikola survived final cuts and will open the season in the NHL.

The Penguins signed Riikola as a free agent in May after he was among the Finnish league’s top defensemen for the previous two seasons.

While Dumoulin has been out, Riikola has been skating on the team’s top defense pair with Kris Letang.

“We didn’t have any preconceived notions going into this or plans that, ‘Hey, he’s going to start in Wilkes-Barre,’” Sullivan said. “I know our scouts highly recommended him as a player, really thought he could play the style of play that the Penguins are trying to play.

“Based on my observations to this point, they were right. I think Juuso has had a really strong camp. He’s a good player. He’s mobile. He can move the puck. He processes the game and he plays with a physical edge. I think he’s a guy that has earned his way here. We’ll see where it goes moving forward, but he’s had a very strong camp.”

Dumoulin (upper-body) skated on his own before practice Monday. Sprong (lower body) practiced in a non-contact capacity. Jarry (lower body) was not on the ice. Sullivan said all three are considered day to day.

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