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Prospect Rewind: Ruotsalainen had career year in Finland

Forward tallied 43 points in 44 contests

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Arttu Ruotsalainen left his first NHL training camp last fall with a clear set of guidelines on how to continue to prepare for a full-time move to the North American game.

"The biggest thing we talked with Arttu about was trying to continue to play at a high pace," Buffalo Sabres assistant general manager Steve Greeley said. "Play with speed, attack with speed. And then we talked with him about the details - making sure he's working on his faceoffs, making sure he's working on his wall play. 

"Arttu had an excellent camp. What we wanted when he had to go back to Finland was just making sure that he continued to make the steps that we thought he was capable of. I think beyond the offensive numbers, we saw improvement in several areas of his game."

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The lessons learned during that camp stuck with Ruotsalainen throughout the ensuing season with Ilves of the Finnish Elite League. The 22-year-old forward tallied a career-high 43 points in 44 games, surpassing his 2018-19 total in 15 fewer contests.

Ruotsalainen's time at Sabres camp was his introduction to the smaller North American rink and the demands that come with it, namely faster decision making and more time spent in physical battles. 

"I tried to [add] some things to my game when I came back to Finland," he said. "I tried to battle hard and go in small areas, go in front of the net and win the battles. I think that was the biggest thing."

His increased in production came in spite of a decrease in ice time. He ranked 10th among Liiga forwards with an average ice time of 19:05, down from his league-leading clip of 21:05 in 2018-19.

The difference was in his role. Ruotsalainen was an all-situations player in 2018-19, one of the first players over the boards on both the power play and the penalty kill. He was used less on the penalty kill this season in favor of conserving time and energy for offense.

Though the results were excellent, Ruotsalainen admitted to missing his time spent on the penalty kill. It was there he cut his teeth for years prior to enjoying his offensive breakthrough last season. He prides himself on the versatility he developed as a result.

"Of course, I missed it because I want to play as much as I can and I love to be on the ice," he said.

The flexibility is an aspect of Ruotsalainen's game that excites the Sabres, too.

"I think he's versatile in the sense that he can play wing or center, which we like," Greeley said. "He's very good at faceoffs. I think he's capable of playing all types of special teams. He's not just a power-play guy or just a PK guy. To us, he's a guy who can play in multiple areas, multiple roles, and the versatility is a nice thing to have."

When camp arrives next season, there will be no surprises. With another strong season in Finland under his belt, Ruotsalainen will be a contender to crack the Sabres' roster in 2020-21.

"I'm doing everything I can to improve myself so that one day I can play in the NHL," he said.

 

By the numbers

.97 - Ruotsalainen's point-per-game average was a career high, up from .71 in 2018-19.

7 - Ruotsalainen scored seven of his 15 goals on the power play, which ranked second on his team.

845 - His faceoff total ranked second on Ilves and 16th in the league. He won draws at a 52.7 percent clip. 

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