Watching highlights of Arttu Ruotsalainen, you may wonder why the Finnish forward wore a shiny gold helmet that stood out from the plain black lids atop the heads of his teammates. No, it wasn't a fashion statement.
The helmet is Finland's way of distinguishing a team's leading scorer, a title Ruotsalainen held for much of his campaign with Liiga's Tampere Ilves. The 21-year-old centerman more than doubled his previous career highs with 21 goals and 42 points, both of which led the team.
Ruotsalainen will look for those skills to translate to North America next season after signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about the organization's newest forward.
Offseason departures left Tampere with a void at its top center position at the outset of the season. Having seen growth in Ruotsalainen's practice habits, coach Karri Kivi decided to give the young forward a look on the top line.
Ruotsalainen took the job and never looked back.
"He was almost one of the best centers in the whole league," Kivi said. "We didn't know in August how he was going to play. We put him on the first line and he was excellent there. He played a lot. He was first power play, first penalty kill, first line, everything."
Ruotsalainen led Liiga forwards in average ice time (21:05) and faceoffs (1,216). His 21 goals ranked ninth in the league.
Although he's listed at just 5-foot-8, 179-pounds, he displayed a willingness to go to the net and an ability to score there. Here he is during a three-point outing in December, posting up in the slot and redirecting a pass into the net:
He passes to the point before cutting across the net on this play from later that month, setting a well-timed screen and then burying a rebound (watch for the gold helmet):
One more play from January, which finds Ruotsalainen planting himself in front of the goaltender and then battling to corral a rebound:
Kivi said that after each game, he and his staff would track each player's actions with and without the puck. More often than not, Ruotsalainen was in the right place at the right time.
"Ruotsalainen is number one in every game, meaning he's where the first center should be," he said. "He's not skating around the rink. He goes there when it's happening."