ST. LOUIS –
When the Buffalo Sabres selected Rasmus Ristolainen
and Nikita Zadorov
in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, it was easy to think that maybe in a few seasons, they could be paired together on the Sabres' blue line.
However, just a year-and-half later, it’s already a reality.
The pair played together on Saturday against Pittsburgh and Sabres coach Ted Nolan plans to keep them together when the Sabres take on the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday at Scottrade Center at 8 p.m. EST. The game will be televised nationally on NBCSN. Dan Dunleavy and Robert Ray will have the radio call live on WGR 550.
Ristolainen, the 20-year-old Finnish defenseman selected eighth overall last year, has appeared in 50 NHL games in his young career after spending time last season with Buffalo and in the American Hockey League. Zadorov, 19, who hails from Russia, will play in his 13th career game and sixth of the season on Tuesday.
Usually coaches will try pairing a younger player with a veteran and while Nolan thinks that would be ideal, it’s not a luxury the team has at the moment.
“There should be a balance, but right now that balance isn’t there so we have to create from within,” he said. “Sometimes when you put two peers of the same age together, they can learn and feed off each other that way. We haven’t got too many older, older defensemen that can really tutor right now so we’ll let them tutor themselves.”
They’re really enjoying being partnered up so far.
“There are all great players here and you can just end up playing with a guy the coaches give to you and you really don’t have choice,” Zadorov said. “But it’s great, I’m telling you, he’s one of the best partners of my life.
“I think it’s great to have a partner your age and a friend, just having fun every time with him off the ice and now you’re with him on the ice.”
Both defensemen take up a lot of space too. Ristolainen is listed at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds and Zadorov comes in at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds.
Ristolainen said the communication between the two has been very good so far and that because they play similar styles, they’re able to read off each other quite easily.
“We think pretty much the same way, how to play the game. It’s good to play with him and easy too,” he said. “We just have one game together, so hopefully we can keep going and let’s see how it goes.”
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 8 Cody McCormick – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Scratched: 41 Andrej Meszaros, 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta
The Sabres mixed and matched their line combinations at practice on Monday and will go with a variation of them against St. Louis. One difference from practice is that Cody Hodgson is back at center and Drew Stafford is at right wing.
Stafford suggested to the coaches that he would like to try playing center and he practiced there Monday, but they’ll stick with Hodgson as the pivot.
“Cody’s been a lot better on our faceoffs recently so we’ll keep [Stafford] on the wing position for the time being and we’ll see how it goes,” Nolan said. “Drew’s been in this League for a while now and he looks at his surroundings and sees what we have. If there’s a position to jump in and give it a whirl, that’s one of the positions. You have to admire his spunk and desire to help the team.”
READY FOR ACTION
Marcus Foligno returns to action after missing the past four games with an upper-body injury. He wanted to make sure his shoulder was fully healed before jumping back into the lineup. He knows he’s in for a tough battle against a big team like the Blues.
“They’re a top team and you want to be heavy against them. You don’t want back down from their big guys. You want to be hard on the forecheck like they are,” he said. “That team’s a pretty good example of a team we want to represent ourselves after. They obviously get the job done too. They play all four lines and it’s something that as a young team we’re trying to develop into.”