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Ristolainen ready to go for Sabres following offseason trade rumors

Defenseman wants to help Buffalo return to playoffs for first time since 2011

by Heather Engel / Independent Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Rasmus Ristolainen said he is ready to get to work following an offseason of uncertainty surrounding his future with the Buffalo Sabres.

"I'm really excited, I'm in great shape," Ristolainen said. "I just want to get better and help this team right now go to the playoffs. It's nice to see all the guys after a long summer. When the summer is so long, you get so excited when you get to put your hockey gear back on."

With the Sabres having needs at right wing and center, the 24-year-old defenseman has often been mentioned in trade rumors as a player with the most value to fetch that help.

That speculation went up a notch in the offseason after general manager Jason Botterill added Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju in trades with the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, giving Buffalo five right-shot defensemen, including Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Brandon Montour.

Video: BUF@BOS: Ristolainen whips wrister past Rask

Ristolainen took the rumors even further last month when in an interview with MTV Sports in Finland that was translated by he implied that he requested a trade.

"I've been here six years and I've seen this business. You never know where you will be next week or next month," Ristolainen said. "When I'm back home, it's easy to go away from hockey and not worry about things you can't control. Now I'm here, I'm happy, and I'm ready to go.

"I don't think anyone else besides me can make pressure for myself. It still doesn't matter if we have two right-handed [defensemen] or 10 right-handed [defensemen]. I want to push myself to be the best I can."

Selected by the Sabres with the No. 8 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Ristolainen had 43 points (five goals, 38 assists) in 78 games last season and is one of the three longest-tenured players on Buffalo along with forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson.

The Sabres have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past eight seasons and have selected in the top 10 of the NHL Draft in every year since Ristolainen debuted in 2013.

"Losing is frustrating for sure, but the way I think, when you go through tough times and losing, I feel like it makes me and makes us stronger," he said. "It makes us respect to win more. We've got to earn it."

Last season, Buffalo appeared to be turning the corner when it won 10 straight games, tied for the longest streak in its history, from Nov. 8-27. But the Sabres were 16-33-8 in their final 57 games to finish 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"I learned to just be as positive as you can and for me, that's hard," Ristolainen said. "I'm pretty passionate about winning. I kind of get [ticked] off and I'm really hard on myself."

Ristolainen admitted his play in his end needs to be better and that he wants to make it one of his strengths. He said he's excited to work with new coach Ralph Krueger, who was hired on May 15, and has a renewed sense of belief heading into the season.

"I like our team," Ristolainen said. "The additions we made this summer, I think the team is stronger than it was last year. Last year, when things clicked those couple months, we were on top of the League, so that gives you a lot of hope."

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