Our annual Top 25 Under 25 series serves to find the best young players in the Buffalo Sabres organization, be it NHL, AHL, European or junior leagues. We voted on everyone from Asplund to Willman, and the best 25 players get profiled throughout the month of September. Today's subject: Rasmus Ristolainen.
Rasmus Ristolainen, RHD
Age: 21 Height: 6’4’’ Weight: 207 lb
The first of our top three players under 25, the lot of which I’m sure you all guessed back when we started this thing, is defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Drafted #8 overall in 2013, Ristolainen has grown from playing in 32 games his rookie year, to a full-time NHL player in 2014, to the Buffalo Sabres #1 defenseman last season.
By being thrust into the Sabres go-to everything role, Risto saw his ice time increase prodigiously, from 20:36 per game to 25:16, giving him almost three minutes more ice time than any other player on the team. With that came increased production, from 20 points in 2015 to 41 last year. However, with that massive increase in playing time also came a wall that Risto hit about two-thirds of the way through the season, and his play noticeably tailed off in the final weeks.
And thus began the summer of “Well, actually...” in which the internet is trying to convince everyone that Ristolainen isn’t really a good defenseman. And if you look at his possession numbers and other stats that drive offense, yes, he’s not among the “elite” of the NHL. But as a 21-year old with a crazy high work ethic who was thrown into the shark tank last year and managed to keep his head above water, I have a sneaking suspicion that Risto will fare better in all areas this season.
That is, of course, if the team gets him under contract before the season starts. Tim Murray wants to pay Ristolainen what he was worth last year, while Risto’s camp wants him to earn what he’ll hopefully be worth after this season. It’s a tricky situation to negotiate, but one thing’s for sure - nobody on the Sabres roster can fill the role Ristolainen plays.
Assuming he gets signed relatively soon, this season will help determine if Ristolainen can truly emerge as one of the NHL’s elite.