As the Sabres gathered on the HARBORCENTER ice for practice Monday morning, a familiar face joined them for the first time. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen
, who sustained an upper-body injury prior to the start of camp, was able to participate in his first practice of the preseason.
Ristolainen‘s presence comes at a good time for the Sabres as their defensive depth has taken a hit in recent days. Coach Dan Bylsma announced Monday that Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian were both week-to-week with lower-body injuries. Gorges’ injury was new while Bogosian’s was announced last week but originally labeled as day-to-day.
Defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe were also absent on Monday. Ruhwedel is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and McCabe’s status is still to be determined after he was injured late in Saturday night’s preseason game in Ottawa.
“He was better yesterday and better today so some good news but we just don’t know quite yet on him,” Bylsma said of McCabe.
Ristolainen, meanwhile, returns with expectations of being one of the team’s top four defensemen, according to Bylsma. His injury hasn’t kept him from skating during camp and he’s also been taking part in contact drills for the past few days.
Bylsma said that he would like to see Ristolainen play 18-20 minutes in two of the team’s final three preseason games.
The biggest adjustment for Ristolainen in his first practice was getting used to the tendencies of his new teammates. He was put to an immediate test on Monday when the team worked on its power play, but he expects that it will take a few practices before the chemistry develops.
Physically, however, Ristolainen feels good after a summer of improvement.
“I like my workouts, I had a great summer, and I feel pretty good now,” he said. “I think I got stronger, faster. That’s two big things I tried to work on.”
Last season, his second with the Sabres, Ristolainen averaged 20:36 per game at age 20. Earlier in camp, Bylsma mentioned that only one defenseman was able to make it to the NHL as a teenager under his watch as Ristolainen did two years ago in Buffalo. That player was Olli Maatta, who Bylsma coached with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Just meeting him, [Ristolainen] gives me the same feeling that Olli Maatta had,” Bylsma said. “Real calm demeanor, real confident, his ability on the ice. You can see why, at a young age, he has been able to step into the National Hockey League and be effective.”
KALETA MAKING PROGRESS
There was other injury news outside the defensive realm on Monday, as Bylsma announced that forward Patrick Kaleta is continuing to make progress after sustaining a lower-body injury earlier in camp.
“He skated this morning on his own and it should be a situation where we see him return to practice here hopefully tomorrow. We’ll see on that but he hopefully will be able to get back on the ice and possibly by the weekend get into some games,” Bylsma said.
Jamie McGinn was also absent from practice, which Bylsma attributed to the forward feeling “under-the-weather sick.”
While the Sabres played five lines on Monday, Bylsma hinted after practice that the top four would be similar to what we should expect to see when the team hosts the Maple Leafs on Tuesday at First Niagara Center. The lines were set as follows:
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
26 Matt Moulson – 41 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno
71 Evan Rodrigues – 22 Johan Larsson – 23 Sam Reinhart
37 Matt Ellis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons/59 Tim Schaller – 20 Jason Akeson
Defensemen: 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 38 Jerome Leduc, 6 Mike Weber, 3 Mark Pysyk, 67 Brady Austin, 46 Cody Franson, 25 Carlo Colaiacovo, 65 Matt Donovan, 45 Brendan Guhle
40 Robin Lehner
50 Nathan Lieuwen
First Unit 5-on-3
Second Unit 5-on-3