The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. six writers and 718 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 1, 2018 in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Few names will make the analytics community exude a collective scream of frustration as quickly as that of Rasmus Ristolainen. At number five in the countdown, Risto is undoubtedly a key figure on this Buffalo Sabres roster, despite the arguments to his effectiveness as a player.
A few things that can’t be denied: he plays MONSTER minutes. He’s been the best blue-liner on a string of very bad Buffalo Sabres teams. At only 23-years-old, he’s suffered through five torturous seasons, four head coaches, three general managers, two tank seasons, and a potential partner in Rasmus Dahlin.
Dahlin is one hell of a gilded carrot to dangle in front of a player who is probably exhausted on many, many levels. He’s played the ninth most minutes in the NHL since his first full year in 2014, and has yet to experience a successful season with his team. He’s constantly criticized for missing the mark from an analytics standpoint, which is difficult to argue (because math) but at the same time, the revolving door of partners and the utterly inept play of the team in the defensive zone certainly drag Ristolainen’s statistical performance.
Advanced stats aside, the Sabres have put a lot of trust in the young Finn, and for the most part, he’s come through. He’s got 151 NHL points - over 100 more than the next closest Buffalo defender, and the third-most on the team since he started in the league. His .44 points per game leads all Buffalo defenders since 2013 - 16th in Sabres history.
It will be interesting to see how Risto reacts to the improvements made to Buffalo’s defensive core. At times, it seems as though he feels like he’s got the team on his shoulders and tries to do too much, which puts him in bad situations. Once he’s got the support that he needs, can he settle in? Will he learn to trust his teammates to do the right thing, and start to make good plays again?
I don’t know what he said, but it looks like he’s ready to prove himself.
This will be an important year for Ristolainen, in terms of his legacy. This is the put up or shut up season - he’s coming into 2018-19 with an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong and really take control of his narrative. Here’s hoping he can do just that.