Arttu Ruotsalainen admits that playing in Columbus felt a bit different than playing in the Prospects Challenge.
The 21-year-old forward is learning on the fly as he adjusts from the Finnish Elite League to the smaller North American ice surface. He played three exhibition games alongside his fellow Sabres prospects prior to making his preseason debut against the Blue Jackets, and the increase in speed was noticeable.
"It was so fast," he said. "It was like everyone went pretty fast, 100 percent all the time. I think it was a good thing that I got three games before training camp. It was a good start."
Ruotsalainen's next test is a date with Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Scotiabank Arena. The Sabres will ice a young lineup featuring Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, and Ruotsalainen, among others.
Though the focus for Buffalo is more on their own game than the opposition, Ruotsalainen admitted he's looking forward to lining up against a star-laden Maple Leafs roster.
"Of course," he said. "There's a lot of good players. Of course, it's a great chance to show how I can play against those guys. I just try to do my best and help the team win. I just have to enjoy every minute I touch the ice."
So far, the Sabres have enjoyed having him. Coach Ralph Krueger lauded Ruotsalainen's maturity and said it's been clear the forward developed a responsible game while leading his team in goals and ice time in Finland a year ago.
Krueger, with two decades of European coaching experience on his resume, is as qualified as anyone to speak about the transition to North American ice. He noted that Finland's rink are the smallest in Europe, though the playing style still presents an adjustment.
"The big thing is in Europe, a lot of the game ends up in that extra ice, which is a long way from the net, and it really spreads things out," Krueger said. "Here, you're automatically pushed closer to the danger zone, pushed closer to the scoring areas.
"For him, I think he's so far showed courage to go there and to play there. But that's the biggest adjustment you make because everything gets tighter, you get hit quicker, you've got less time and space."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
So far, it hasn't stopped Ruotsalainen from leaving his mark at camp. In addition to his 200-foot game, his speed should make him an ideal fit for Krueger's vision of Sabres hockey, be it this season or beyond.
"I try to improve myself every day and I do everything top level," Ruotsalainen said. "That's how I try to go forward all the time. I feel pretty good now and I just try to enjoy every moment here."
Matching up with Matthews
Krueger said there will be no effort to match specific lines against Toronto's star center, who is expected to play on a line with Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander. Rather, the coach will look to roll four lines and allow his entire lineup to share the ice with Toronto's top trio.
"For me, the focus on the opposition is minimal," Krueger said. "It's all about us right now. It's all about our game, it's all about the way we play. We're not looking at matchups as far as lines are concerned, D pairs and so on.
"We're just rolling it to get everybody into every situation. We'd like to see every line go up against him."
Linus Ullmark will make his second start in net. Krueger said a decision regarding whether he plays the full three periods or splits time with backup Andrew Hammond will be made in-game.
Here's how the rest of the lineup is expected to look:
81 Remi Elie - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 72 Tage Thompson
25 Arttu Ruotsalainen - 42 Dylan Cozens - 43 Conor Sheary
49 C.J. Smith - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 21 Kyle Okposo
27 Curtis Lazar - 15 Jean-Sebastien Dea - 12 Kevin Porter
19 Jake McCabe - 10 Henri Jokiharju
78 Jacob Bryson - 38 Zach Redmond
58 John Gilmour - 3 William Borgen
35 Linus Ullmark
36 Andrew Hammond