As the preseason winds down, the Buffalo Sabres must endure one last round of painful decision-making.
With 28 members currently on the roster, and with the maximum number of players a team may have on opening day being 23, the Sabres still must send 5 players back to the minor (or junior) leagues.
When it comes to forwards, Buffalo must decide who among Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia, Luke Adam, Johan Larsson,Brian Flynn, and Cody McCormick will stay, and who will go. On the defensive end, however, the picture is a bit more clear, as Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk are the only two blueliners who are currently making their case for a spot on the opening day roster. I like both of these players, but today I will make the case against Rasmus Ristolainen remaining on the Sabres roster come opening day.
Two things are working against Ristolainen right about now. First, his game. When Ristolainen was drafted by the Sabres, I heard an awful lot people saying that this kid was “NHL ready.” No – he’s 18, and he’s a defenseman. He’s not “NHL ready.” Has he been solid in the preseason? For the most part, yes. There have been a few games in which he struggled to get into the flow, or to get himself in good positioning, but I like what I have seen from Ristolainen so far. Having said that, he’s not ready for an 82-game season, especially when you consider the Sabres have to make a decision regarding Mark Pysyk (who is almost certainly going to be on the opening day roster) and that the Sabres already sent down Chad Ruhwedel, who played well in the big leagues last season and looked solid during the preseason. I’m not saying Ruhwedel is necessarily ready for a full season in the bigs, but I’d rather have him on the team on opening night than Ristolainen.
There is another reason I would advocate against keeping Ristolainen on the roster once opening day rolls around: he’s a target. Any prospect is a target, I know, but Ristolainen stands 6’4″, and he plays a bruising style of defense. Big guys on opposing teams are going to want to prove “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” and take a run at him. I know the kid is tough and all – but he’s 18. He makes a rookie mistake, puts his head down . . . recipe for disaster. And, whether Buffalo fans care to admit it or not, the Sabres have put a nice big target on their back for the near future. That’s what happens when you break the code and go after a pure scorer, and Phil Kessel’s stupidity notwithstanding, there are not many people outside of the 716 who enjoyed what John Scott did. The brawl may be a distant memory once the regular season begins – or it may not, and teams might be willing to send the Sabres a message of their own.
I like Ristolainen a ton and have been impressed by what I have seen from him so far – but he’s just not ready for the bigger, faster NHL. I expect to see him make the cut come the opening of the 2014-2015 season, and if the injury bug hits the Sabres he almost certainly will get some ice time during this season, but that’s as far as I would go with Ristolainen right now.
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