Prospect Rasmus Ristolainen was drafted eighth overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He was one of two first-round draft picks made by former GM Darcy Regier in his final draft as a Sabres executive.
It is no secret why Regier drafted Ristolainen as the towering Fin was coveted by several teams in the NHL. He is 6-foot-4 and weighs just over 200 pounds. The Sabres had two first-round picks in the 2013 entry draft and the team took another towering defenseman from Russia named Nikita Zadorov, and the fans instantly dubbed the two “the Twin Towers.”
The reasoning for drafting Ristolainen was sound. He is a smart kid that can play the physical game. He also has a booming shot from the point and has the potential to be a star on the power play. But the key word here is “potential.” Most teams play their top draft picks in preseason and then send them down to juniors or the AHL for more conditioning.
The Sabres tried to bring Ristolainen up to the NHL roster almost immediately. He played 19 games in the NHL, scoring one goal and notching an assist, but this kid is not ready for the big leagues.
Ristolainen has played in some international tournaments and is currently in Rochester, but he is not on the Finnish Olympic team. The Sabres are also allowing Ristolainen to continue to play out his Finnish professional contract before bringing him to the United States and putting him into the farm system. These are all moves that have been crafted by interim head coach Ted Nolan, as it was Nolan who took Ristolainen out of the Sabres’ lineup and sent him back to Finland as soon as the coach arrived in Buffalo.
There is a tremendous upside to Ristolainen that the Sabres are going to try and cultivate before bringing him into the NHL. He has a nasty streak in him that can come out when he feels comfortable in a situation. The Sabres saw a little of that edge in the one game he played in the NHL when he picked up four minutes in penalties. However, he needs to understand the NHL game before he can succeed in it. The Sabres see a lot of true potential in Ristolainen, and they are hoping to mold him into an NHL star of the future.