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Rasmus Dahlin Should Be Playing More Than Rasmus Ristolainen

He’s only 18-years-old but Dahlin should be seeing more time on the ice

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Rasmus Dahlin is an 18 year old rookie 18 games into his NHL career while Rasmus Ristolainen is a six-year vet with 364 NHL games under his belt. It stands to reason that a coach would defer top minutes to a 24 year old with that kind of experience while sheltering an 18 year old’s minutes in order to get a feel for how he handles the game at the NHL level.

That should change going forward.

The Sabres have completed just under 22% of their season now and it’s time to begin transitioning Rasmus Dahlin from sheltered rookie to Sabres number one defensemen. Not to suggest he should start playing 30 minutes a night against Winnipeg and Minnesota this weekend, but the 14 minute nights should never be a thing because, as I’ll argue for below, he should be hitting at least 20 minutes of ice time regularly from now on.

18 games isn’t a massive sample but I think it’s enough to begin the process of comparing Dahlin and Ristolainen to help us decide how defensive minutes should be allocated.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Dahlin vs. Ristolainen

Player 5v5 TOI All TOI 5v5 Points All Points 5v5 P/60 All P/60 CF/60 CA/60 5v5 CF% Off Faceoff % Neut Faceoff % Def Faceoff %
Player 5v5 TOI All TOI 5v5 Points All Points 5v5 P/60 All P/60 CF/60 CA/60 5v5 CF% Off Faceoff % Neut Faceoff % Def Faceoff %
Dahlin 260:34 322:27 5 7 1.15 1.3 61.02 56.19 52.06% 34.85% 31.12% 34.02%
Ristolainen 314:04 457:18 2 9 .38 1.18 52.53 58.46 47.33% 30.02% 35.56% 34.40%
Natural Stattrick

Unsurprisingly, Dahlin has been demonstrably better in every category except for all situations points where he trails by two points in 135 fewer minutes played. Not to mention the fact that only two of Ristolainen’s nine points have come at 5v5 compared to Dahlin’s five.

One of Ristolainen’s biggest, and well earned, selling points has been his point production. Through his years on bad Sabres teams he has consistently produced on the score sheet and he deserves praise for his success. However, it’s already clear that Dahlin is better at the main thing Ristolainen is known for being good at.

Again he only trails Ristolainen by two points overall and is scoring at a rate of 1.15 Points per 60 minutes played at 5v5. To put that in perspective, among defensemen who have played a minimum of 200 minutes at 5v5 this season, Dahlin is 35th in the league, as an 18 year old.

Your next thought might be, well Ristolainen probably starts more of his shifts with a defensive zone face-off than Dahlin. I hate to break it to you, but Dahlin and Ristolainen start roughly the same percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone at roughly 34 percent. The bigger discrepancy is the difference between offensive and neutral zone face-offs where Dahlin get’s a higher percentage in the offensive zone while Ristolainen starts in the neutral zone more often.

And finally, Ristolainen’s favorite stat, Corsi For %. Un-shockingly Ristolainen’s corsi is real bad while Dahlin’s is real good. When I first saw the percentages I theorized that perhaps Dahlin may be playing higher event hockey where the opposing team takes more shot attempts against the Sabres with him on the ice while Ristolainen may play more of a shut down style where even though Buffalo takes fewer shot attempts for with him on the ice, maybe they also give up fewer shot attempts against.

That theory was extremely wrong.

At 5v5 Dahlin and Ristolainen give up a somewhat similar number of shot attempts against per 60 minutes with 56.19 and 58.46 shot attempts against respectively. The major discrepancy is that with Dahlin on the ice the Sabres are taking 61.02 shot attempts for per 60 minutes compared to 52.53 when Ristolainen is on the ice. In other words, they are comparable at suppressing shot attempts against, but Dahlin blows Ristolainen out of the water at driving the offense forward for the Sabres.

Not only is Dahlin better at the things Ristolainen is bad at, he’s better than Ristolainen at the things Ristolainen is known to be good at, as an 18 year old. I think we all expected Dahlin to be better that Ristolainen pretty quickly, but probably not this much better only 18 games into the season.

My suggestion starting now would be to bring their minutes to a more equitable level. There’s no reason Ristolainen should be on the ice for 25+ minutes while Dahlin is hanging out around 15-17 minutes. Dahlin should be up over 20 minutes every single night and Ristolainen should be closer to 22 minutes max with the eventual goal of Dahlin taking over the top minutes by seasons end.