Season Stats: 73 GP | 6 G | 35 A | 41 PTS
Contract Status: Signed through 2021-22
Although Ristolainen had a decent season personally on a team that struggled and finished 31st, there’s no guarantee he’ll be in a Buffalo uniform next season. Reports suggest the Sabres may look to trade the 23-year-old, but what the return would be is unclear.
Ristolainen led all Sabres defensemen with 41 points this season, which was good enough for fifth overall on the team in scoring, behind only Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel.
He also finished this season a minus-25, but you can only put so much stock in plus/minus, especially on a team that overall performed so poorly. Ristolainen was a big guy on the power play, putting up 23 points on the man advantage - more than anyone else on the team, tied with O’Reilly.
He also logs big minutes a lot of games, but perhaps his efforts were squashed slightly this season. One of his D partners, Zach Bogosian, got injured and played only 18 games. Ristolainen was often paired with Josh Gorges, who had his own struggles throughout the season.
The positive here is that Ristolainen is still young, at only 23 (he’ll be 24 by the time next season rolls around). But while he logs minutes and produces offensively, he hasn’t stepped up into a leadership role on the Sabres’ defense just yet. If he gets moved this summer, which seems like a real possibility, he’ll likely flourish in another market.
Ristolainen seems to want to return to the Sabres, and he recognizes that things in Buffalo need to change. In his postseason comments, he said he wants to be a leader, and that he wants to learn “from our top guys and be one of them.”
The question is now, will Jason Botterill and co. keep him around long enough for that to become reality?
Season Grade: B+
What grade would you give Rasmus Ristolainen this season?
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