It’s been just over a week since the 2013 NHL Entry Draft was held in New Jersey. Just over a week ago, the Buffalo Sabres selected Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen with the eighth overall selection.
So – who is Ristolainen? Let’s start with the basics.
The 6-3, 203-pound defenseman hails from Turku, Finland and has spent parts of the last three seasons playing with TPS Turku of SM-liiga.
He’s represented his country on a national team at many levels, including in the WHC-17, WJC-18 and WJC-20. He was drafted 13th overall in the 2012 KHL Draft by Amur Khabarovsk, but remained in Finland and continued to play there.
Last season, he had three goals and 12 assists and was a minus-7 in 52 games with TPS Turku. He had two goals and four assists and 20 penalty minutes in six games for Finland in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships. He led all Finnish defensemen in scoring during the tournament and was sixth overall in scoring on the team, which also included Buffalo Sabres prospect Joel Armia.
Last October, NHL director of European Scouting hailed Ristolainen as “a mobile, strong, offensive-minded defenseman,” noting his puck-handling and passing skills. His size, strength and physical ability were considered three key factors in his style of play.
Ristolainen began playing as a defenseman around the age of 12, having played wing for roughly seven years prior to that. He says that he models his game after Chris Pronger, focusing on playing physical, passing and keeping the puck, and Shea Weber, who he considered his childhood idol.
He’s considered one of the best young defensemen in Europe in his age group and was ranked third by NHL Central Scouting in international skaters in the midterm reports and fourth in the final reports.
He was the second-highest ranked Finnish player entering the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, behind center Aleksander Barkov, and was the highest ranked European defenseman heading into the 2013 draft. The next behind him was Robert Hagg of Modo (Sweden), ranked eighth. He was eventually drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers with the 41st overall selection.
Ristolainen is the highest-drafted Finnish player that the Buffalo Sabres have ever selected in team history. He’s also the first Finnish defenseman drafted by the team since 1985, when the Sabres selected Petri Matikainen with the 140th overall selection. Overall, the Sabres have selected 12 Finnish players in team history: four goaltenders, five defensemen and three forwards.
For a few highlights of Ristolainen’s play over the past few years, check out these links. First, a shootout goal he scored in 2011 that has garnered over 24,000 views to date. Here’s a compilation of his hits that has over 17,000 views, and an international promo video from 2011.