To paraphrase owner Terry Pegula, Rasmus Ristolainen ain’t going nowhere.
After the blockbuster trade late Sunday night that sent center Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a number of pieces, including a 2019 first-round pick and prospect Tage Thompson, talks started swirling up once again about a possible Ristolainen trade. Many have suggested that talks have been taking place with the Oilers, but just because a team has called Buffalo about a deal that doesn’t mean the Sabres have a desire to move the young blueliner.
Multiple people close to the team have made it known that not only is general manager Jason Botterill not trying to trade Ristolainen currently, but he has never been interested in trading away the 23-year-old defenseman.
“He (Botterill) views him as major piece of the puzzle,” one source stated. “He’s taken calls, but has made it known it would take king’s ransom to even consider a deal.”
Since joining the Sabres on a full-time basis in 2014, Ristolainen has been Buffalo’s top defenseman both in terms of playing time and production.
After recording just 20 points in his first full season with buffalo, the Finland native has tallied over 40 points in each of the last three seasons. He’s done so while playing nearly 25 minutes per night, a tough task even for the best defensemen in the league. With 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin in the fold, Ristolainen doesn’t automatically become expendable. In fact, he will be in a position to have even more production moving forward.
Ristolainen is likely to remain on the top pair in Buffalo, especially while Dahlin gets acclimated to the NHL game. But there is now flexibility for head coach Phil Housley and his staff.
It was clear that as last season unfolded, Ristolainen’s body began to tire and wear down due to his playing time. The way the Sabres are currently set up on defense, Ristolainen shouldn’t have to be relied on to play 25-26 minutes per night. Cutting that number down to 22 minutes may not seem like much, but for a player, that’s a lot of extra rest time.
Ristolainen is training hard this summer -- as documented via his social media posts -- to come into training camp bigger and better than ever for the Sabres. Who knows, maybe with this training regimine, his body will be able to handle 26 minutes a night for a full season now. The key is that he won’t have to play that much anymore thanks to the changes and additions on defense.
By moving O’Reilly, it’s clear that a culture change is taking place within the Sabres locker room. What’s also clear is Botterill wants Ristolainen to be a part of that culture.