Rasmus Ristolainen got his first shot at the NHL on Sunday against Montreal. In the game, Ristolainen had two shots and an assist in 23:22 TOI. The defensive group in Buffalo is stacked, and it would be a tough road for Ristolainen to make the Sabres. The Sabres are giving the 18-year old every chance they can for him to make the NHL roster. So does Rasmus Ristolainen really have a chance at making the roster?
I wrote in August that I thought Ristolainen would start in the AHL and play for the Rochester Americans. However, Ristolainen has been very impressive in camp playing with Mike Weber. Ristolainen believes that his style of play compares to the style of Shea Weber, a good two-way defender. Ristolainen has proven that he has a rocket of a shot and that he can play a physical and smart defensive game. But that has been in training camp and one preseason game. Can he really keep impressing enough to bump another defenseman to Rochester?
Let's take a look at some of the competition for the Finnish kid:
Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Weber, and Henrik Tallinder are going to have a spot on this roster. Mark Pysyk has continued to show from last year that he is worthy of a roster spot, and I believe he will get one. Brayden McNabb has not looked good in camp, and I believe he will be back in Rochester for another season. As much as I would love to see Nikita Zadorov on the roster, there is simply no room for him to be in Buffalo. He will return to play in London of the OHL for at least one more year. So now that leaves us with Ristolainen, Jamie McBain, Alexander Sulzer, and Chad Ruhwedel.
Alex Sulzer had a lot of success playing with Christian Ehrhoff in the past, but has been plagued with injuries in his short tenure in Buffalo. And he is not even playing along side Ehrhoff anymore because Tyler Myers has been paired with Ehrhoff throughout training camp. I stated in the evaluations that Sulzer would be the extra defenseman of the group, but if he continues to stay quiet at camp he may be waived and sent to Rochester to start the 2013-14 season.
Chad Ruhwedel was a nice addition to a depleted defensive group at the end of last season. Ruhwedel was playing well in the Traverse City Tournament, but an injury cut his tournament short. In camp, Ruhwedel has been playing the game simple. He has been doing everything that is needed from him, but nothing that has stood out amongst the rest. I still believe that he will be sent to Rochester and be part of the young group to develop there.
Jamie McBain has been a good offensive NHL defender throughout his career. He is a very good puck mover, and can put a puck wherever he needs one to be. McBain can also play on the second unit of the powerplay and anchor whoever else is on the point. McBain has been productive in training camp, and I have been impressed with his transition from Carolina to Buffalo. He is a good skater and would be a good player to play along with a guy like Henrik Tallinder or Mark Pysyk. I still believe Jamie McBain remains on the roster, but I do not know if he will be in uniform for game one.
As for Ristolainen, he has to keep the pace and earn his roster spot. Last season, playing for TPS Turku in the SM-liiga, Ristolainen had 15 points (3+12) in 52 games as a 17-year old kid in a professional hockey league in Finland. For a 17-year old kid, that is impressive to put up those stats in the pros. Plus, the rinks in Finland are larger and his transition should be hopefully smooth and easy. Ristolainen says that he is ready for the smaller rink in the NHL, and that his goal is to make the Sabres right off the bat. Anything is possible with this kid, and if he continues to keep up his tempo and play, I see him dressing for the opening night roster in Detroit. The season begins in just 15 days.
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