DOB: October 27, 1994 (Age, 23)
Draft: 2013, 1st round (8th-overall)
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: October 11, 2016, 6yr./$32.4 million
Final year of contract: 2021-22
2017-18- Stats: 73 games played | 6 goals | 35 assists | 41 points | -25 | 26:30 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats: 346 games | 31 goals | 120 assists | 151 points | -102 | 24:09 ATOI
What we wrote preseason:
"Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen came in at No. 23 on NHL.com’s list of the top-20 defensemen in the league. To Sabres fans, Ristolainen is the team's No. 1 defenseman who was a workhorse under previous head coach Dan Bylsma while averaging an NHL fifth-best 26:28 minutes per game last season. However, there's a quibble over Ristolainen's effectiveness as a defenseman, whether or not he should be viewed as a No.1 or even a top-pairing d-man, and where his place should be in the pecking order of NHL defensemen.
"The quibble is based upon the analytics community busting out their spread sheets and concluding that Ristolainen isn't all he's cracked up to be. There is truth to both statistical sides. He's still weak in areas but taken as a whole, he's been progressing nicely."
What we wrote mid-season:
"The 23 yr. old Ristolainen is still anchoring the Sabres defense and logging tons of ice-time which right now is at a career-high of 26:55/game (second in the league.) There's a group in Sabreland that no longer see him as even a top-pairing defenseman while others believe he is such and is still evolving. There's no doubt that Ristolainen struggled mightily at times this season but we've also seen spurts of a mobile power game from him on the backend, just not enough. His stat-line through 24 games is zero goals, nine assists and a minus-10 rating. Ristolainen was injured for a nine-game stretch (Nov.5- 22.) In his absence the Sabres went 1-6-2 scoring 18 goals and allowing 31. Although not untouchable, rumor has it that Botterill would only trade Ristolainen for a big return."
Impressions on his play this year:
Yet another slow start from a player who was to be part of Buffalo's core. In the last three seasons Ristolainen has averaged no less that 25:17 of ice-time and played in no less than 73 games in those years but had his share problems this season. One of the things that jumped out early in the season was his stick. He just couldn't get it working as he didn't score is first goal until December 29th and the puck bounced over his stick on numerous occasions at the point leading to golden opportunities and shorthanded goals against.
The Sabres drafted Ristolainen when their focus was "bigger, stronger, faster." He has great mobility for player of his size but at times looks like a muscle car amidst a group of Ferrari's. He had trouble getting rolling on offense and on defense he often times had trouble with speed. There's a lot to like about him, especially the edge he plays with, something that truly annoys the opposition but today's game has been challenging for him.
Ristolainen is reaching his prime having played for three general managers and four coaches and seems to be the poster child for the losing culture in Buffalo. Despite all that turmoil, when asked by the gathered media about lots of changes coming, Ristolainen replied, "I hope so, there needs to be changes" and later said that he didn't think it should be in the coaching ranks. "We need changes," he said, "and the changes are not with the coach, it's the responsibility of the players, we need to change."
Questions moving forward:
Is he a product of a losing culture or is he one of the reasons for a losing culture? Has he plateaued in his production? How much of a mental toll has five consecutive losing seasons taken on him? Will the changes that are coming include Ristolainen being moved? Should the Sabres be able to draft Rasmus Dahlin, is Ristolainen a part of the future of the d-corps? And if so, where do they slot him in? If they don't draft Dahlin, is he once again logging over 26 minutes/game as a Buffalo Sabre? If traded, will he be able to reach his full potential in a different environment?
Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.
Ristolainen's locker cleanout interview via sabres.com: