Perhaps the most impressive player Tuesday night during the Blue & White Scrimmage was Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo’s top pick in 2013.
The eighth-overall selection played 34 games in Buffalo last season but was really able to further his development under Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy during an extended stint in the American Hockey League.
After coaching Ristolainen in 34 games in Rochester last season, Cassidy has seen the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman make remarkable strides forward. Cassidy said that Ristolainen is extremely active in taking the advice of the coaches to heart and using that to further prepare for the NHL game.
“[He’s a] really aggressive learner,” Cassidy said. "He took every piece of advice we gave him throughout the year and executed on it.
“…The biggest thing he had to address this year in Rochester was finishing shifts. When he got extended in the D zone, he had a really hard time, and he usually ended up in some scoring chances against us.”
Last season was Ristolainen’s first in North America. Prior to being drafted, he played two professional seasons in Finland. He started last season in Buffalo but was sent down to the minors in January after Ted Nolan took over as head coach. He joined the Sabres again as an emergency recall later in the year and once the NHL season finished, he helped the Amerks make a run to the playoffs.
After cutting some “baby fat” to weigh in at around 205 pounds this camp, Ristolainen was able to be one of the most physical players in an impressive group of heavy prospects during the Blue & White Scrimmage.
“That’s nice, I like to play that style,” Ristolainen said. “I think it’s a real game, real type of play if you hit and compete hard. That belongs [in] the game.”
With the goaltender pulled late in the scrimmage, Ristolainen made some strong plays for Team Blue in his own end to keep the puck out of the net. He gave his squad a chance to close a three-goal deficit as well in the final five minutes.
Goaltender Jonas Johansson, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, made a desperate glove save to rob Ristolainen of a goal in the last five minutes of the game. In tight, Ristolainen tried to lift the puck over Johansson.
However, the shot bounced off Johansson’s glove and a second effort with that glove hand was enough for the goaltender to swat the puck away from the goal line.
Ristolainen and 2014 second-round pick Brendan Lemieux also got into a bit of a chirping match at the end of the second period. The scrimmage had some chippy moments and strong physical play throughout.
“It’s great that there’s a lot of intensity,” Ristolainen said. “Everybody likes to play hard and it was kind of a real game there. There were a lot of hits and compete.”