Weight: 219 lbs.
2013-14 team: Rochester/Buffalo
Acquired: Taken in the 1st round (8th overall) in the 2013 draft
Last year's ranking: 8
He's big, he can skate, he's incredibly intelligent on the ice, and we've already seen him grow as a player in just one season. Those are some of the reasons that many project Rasmus Ristolainen as a top-pair defenseman.
Ristolainen was a part of the youth core that joined the team at the start of last season. After 18 games he was sent down to Rochester, largely due to him struggling at the NHL level. In Rochester things really clicked, and he began to dominate. His solid play and a rash of injuries helped him get recalled at the end of the season, a stint that makes a solid case for Ristolainen being up with the Sabres at the start of the year. His advanced stats received a boost thanks to his strong play.
The highlight of the season for Ristolainen happened in the World Junior Tournament. He scored the game winning goal, one of three in five games, in the Championship game to lift Finland over rival Sweden. He was named the best defenseman of the tournament and made the Tournament All-Star team alongside Nikita Zadorov.
So, what are the Sabres to do with Ristolainen this season? Do they keep him up at the NHL level to learn on the job, or do they allow him to excel with the Americans for one more season? The Sabres likely don't want to rush Rasmus, especially on a Nolan coached team. Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Mike Weber and Andrej Meszaros are likely locks to be in Buffalo. That leaves two more starting positions, and Mark Pysyk will likely fill in one of them. That leaves one spot for Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel, Andre Benoit, and Jake McCabe. Who they choose will reflect on the philosophy the team has this season.
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