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Edit: Drafted 8th overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
Rasmus Ristolainen joins countryman Aleksander Sasha Barkov, and gives us two Finnish players in our top 10 ranks. He also plays in the SM-Liiga the top men’s league in Finland, for TPS Turku. This is impressive especially considering that when he played his first games in the league he was just 16 years old. This pro experience will serve Ristolainen well and will help him to make the transition into the NHL that much quicker than it otherwise would have been.
Ristolainen has also been a player on the international stage as he played in the last two World Junior Championship and the last two Under 18 World Championships, showing off his skills. Due to his October 1994 birthdate he is not eligible for this spring’s Under 18s.
Born — Turku, Finland
Height 6.02 — Weight 189 — Shoots Right
February Rank: 9
Ristolainen is a talented offensive defenceman who can certainly help a team generate offense from the backend. The first thing you notice about Ristolainen is how calm and cool he is with the puck on his stick. He is a good stickhandler, who uses his ability to protect the puck to buy him the time necessary to survey the ice and make the smart play, whether that be deciding between making the quick crisp breakout pass from his own zone, or skating the puck up ice himself. He uses the same smart decision making to be a quarterback in the offensive zone, especially on the powerplay. Ristolainen also has a very strong point shot, which he understands is most effective when he keeps it low and on net.
Ristolainen has good skating skill for a big man. His top end speed is above average and allows him to join the rush, either by carrying the puck or by joining late as a trailer. He has good mobility, agility and edgework and thus, is able to effectively shut down his half of the ice, and can deal with forwards attacking him one on one. He walks the line well allowing him to open up shooting and passing lanes on the power play. While the skating isn’t in an elite category, it is pretty good, especially when paired with Ristolainen’s ideal NHL size.
Defensively, Ristolainen is a punishing physical presence. He loves to throw the body and can deliver some big hits. He also battles hard in corners and in front of the net, and has shown a decent mean streak. Like many 18 year olds, he will need to bulk up and add upper body strength before he can be effective in this style at the next level. He does uses his size and stick effectively to cut down shooting and passing lanes, and takes full advantage of his extra reach in this way. The one issue Ristolainen has is that he can get out of position in the defensive zone, and does not always diagnose the play as welll as he should. He will need to work on this going forward.
Stylistically, Ristolainen has said that he tries to model his game after Chris Pronger, and you can certainly see the influence in the good offensive skills coupled with the mean streak in his own end of the ice. Now once again the comparison is for stylistic purposes only, as we don’t believe that Ristolainen will ever be as good as Pronger (one of the best defenceman of the last 10-15 years). Ristolainen does have potential to be top pairing defenceman though, and to be used in all situations and play big minutes down the road.
Check back tomorrow for our number 9 prospect.
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photo credit: http://kuvapankki.jatkoaika.com