The Buffalo Sabres look to be keeping the trend of signing free agent players out of Europe alive. After signing Victor Antipin two years ago and Lawrence Pilut last offseason; this time around they could be going into the Finnish ranks. A report from Miika Arponen indicates the Sabres and free agent forward Arttu Ruotsalainen have mutual interest.
The 21-year-old forward played this past season for Ilves in the Finnish pro league Liiga. If you’re unaware, Ilves, is the same team that Sabres prospect Oskari Laaksonen also plays for.
Ruotsalainen is an undersized center (5’8”) that scored 21 goals and 42 points in 59 games this season in Liiga. While his height could be concerning, Ruotsalainen took a big strides this year to prove that he can produce at the pro level.
“Ilves didn’t have a very good team this but Ruotsalainen was their player both during the regular season and in the playoffs as well. It’s not really fair to expect a 21-year-old to carry a team in the Liiga, but that’s exactly what he did.
He played huge minutes and was in all situations. In addition to his team-leading offensive numbers, his Corsi numbers were some of the best in the league, and he was one of the best face off guys in the league as well.
He has always been a top player among his age group in Finland but go overlooked because of his size. This season he proved he wasn’t just a junior hockey star - he can be a great pro player as well.”
Overall that was a pretty encouraging assessment from Nevalainen if the Sabres do end up getting a deal done here. While Ruotsalainen plays center for Ilves, he’ll likely have to transition to wing in North America. It’s rare for a player of his size to succeed at that position unless they have high-end skill, for example, Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ruotsalainen is currently with the Finnish national team at their World Championship camp as they look to make final decisions on their roster. We’ll see if the 21-year-old ends up playing for Finland in the tournament starting in May.
#Sabres prospect Laaksonen gets the primary assist here but more impressive is the goal from undrafted 1997-born Arttu Ruotsalainen who has scored 15 points in 16 games this season. Playing over 20 minutes per game. He's still draft-eligible next summer. #Liiga #2019NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/myCzYgP5k5— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) October 27, 2018
Finding young free agents in Europe is a nice avenue to go to improve your roster. We saw some of the rewards of that with Pilut this past season and maybe we’ll see something similar in Ruotsalainen if he signs with the Sabres.
There are also a few other nice Finnish free agents the Sabres could explore in defensemen Oliwer Kaski and Teemu Kivihalme.