Player: Rasmus Ristolainen
Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (8th overall)
Final Central Scout Ranking: No. 4 European skater
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 207 lbs
DOB: October 27, 1994
Most Recent Affiliation: SM-liiga, TPS Turku
A large defenseman with room to grow, Ristolainen already has 93 games of experience in the Finnish SM-liiga as an 18-year-old. His moderate 2011-12 season (three goals, eight points, 78 penalty minutes in 40 games played) was backed up by an impressive 2012-13 campaign.
Last season, Ristolainen scored three goals and had 12 points while reducing his penalty minutes (32) in 52 games played. TPS relied heavily on his contributions, giving him ample playing time and putting him into key situations. His ability to play at such a high level in Finland’s professional hockey league has some scouts believing he could jump right in and play on an NHL team next season.
Full Scouting Report
Ristolainen is built like a forward and possesses exciting offensive ability, but the foundation of his play is in his own zone.
“To that point, he will lay the body, and he can provide quality hits,” writes Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. “He could fast track to the NHL quicker than a typical defense prospect.”
He's already a skilled puck-handler, a strong skater and is poised with the puck.
“With the puck, he shows calmness,” continues Pronman, “but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it.”
Ristolainen could crack an NHL roster immediately after being drafted, but while everyone raves about his physical play and hockey sense, some scouts question his ability to position himself in the defensive zone and control the play at both ends of the ice.
“[His] calling card,” reads his Talent Analysis on HockeysFuture,com, “is his willingness to be involved in the play and to push the envelope at times.”
NHL Player Comparison
Ristolainen is drawing comparisons to Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a large, versatile defenseman who's productive at both ends of the ice.
If he is able to get involved in the play at both ends of the ice and generate offense, especially as a point man on the power play, Ristolainen could arrive as soon as the 2013-14 season.
At his best, Ristolainen will become one of the elite two-way defensemen in the NHL. If the offense does not come after his body has filled out, then it is likely he will be a defensive plug for a team in need of depth along the blue line.