While adding superstar prospect Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick in June will aid in the Buffalo Sabres rebuild a lot quicker, perhaps the biggest beneficiary will be defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Taken eighth overall in 2013, the blueliner has been tabbed as the team’s No. 1 defenseman since that day and treated as such as he’s averaged more than 26 minutes a game for the past three years. In fact, Ristolainen ranked fourth in the NHL this year in average ice time (ATOI) with 26:30 behind only Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter and Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson.
However, as the years have passed, it’s been quite obvious that he’s not the coveted No. 1 defenseman that they hoped he’d be. In fact, as this season wrapped up, there has been talk of moving on from him. However, everything changed Saturday when the Buffalo Sabres won the draft lottery. With Dahlin taking over the responsibilities as the team’s top defenseman next season, which is inevitable, the team may get more production out of Ristolainen with a lesser role, according to The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy.
The scribe writes that Ristolainen has been leaned on too much over the course his career and his development has paid for it with the amount of minutes the team has forced him to play over his short career, mostly due to the fact that the Sabres have lacked any depth in quality defensemen over the years. Of course, he’s put up modest seasons, including three straight 40-point seasons, but has done nothing to earn top-flight minutes.
However, with Dahlin in the team’s rotation next season and perhaps another addition in the offseason, the Sabres will have more depth and can give Ristolainen more rest during games. Whether the right-handed defenseman is paired with the left-handed Dahlin or whether they are split into two pairs, the 23-year-old Ristolainen looks like he’s finally got the help he needed the last few years.
Throw in an improved season by Marco Scandella and a full-season from Brendan Guhle, there is a sign of hope in Buffalo. The team also is close to signing top Sweedish defenseman Lawrence Pilut and have also signed top college defenseman Will Borgen, although both could end up starting in the AHL for a while. Regardless, their blueline has a lot of promise.