The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of six staff writers and over 500 readers that ranked players under the age of 25 by September 1st, 2019. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player.
Arttu Ruotsalainen is a wildcard.
That’s the best way to put it, at least at this point. It’s hard to judge exactly how good he may be in North America, or with the Buffalo Sabres organization, since he hasn’t played a game here just yet, and he wasn’t even with the Sabres organization last season. Ruotsalainen signed as an undrafted free agent with the Sabres, inking a three-year, entry-level deal with the team in early May.
The 21-year-old appears to be a skilled forward on his way up. This past season, he appeared in 59 games with Ilves, putting up 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points. It was a huge breakout season for him, as he more than doubled his point total from the previous year (20 points in 60 games). He also led his team’s forwards in average ice time and face-offs.
Ruotsalainen also averaged a point-per-game in the playoffs, potting five assists and a pair of goals for seven points in as many games. On the international stage, he recorded three points in 11 games with the national Finnish team.
One factor many will point out about Ruotsalainen is, of course, his size. At 5’8”, he’s certainly on the smaller side. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and fans shouldn't count him out because of it.
His coach with Ilves called him “one of the best centers in the whole league” and has spoken to his hockey IQ and knowledge of where he needs to be on the ice as other contributing factors to his game and style of play.
The final piece of this wildcard is where exactly Ruotsalainen will be playing next season. The hope, of course, would be for him to find a spot with the Sabres. If he doesn’t, he would be required to go back to Finland and play for Ilves, unless the team grants him permission to play in Rochester with the Amerks.
If Ilves doesn’t give him permission to play in Rochester, Ruotsalainen could join the Amerks after his season in Finland ends, so fans could still get a chance to see him in North America, one way or the other.