A mature, confident defender, Ristolainen is set to make his North American debut following a two-year stint with TPS Turku in Finland’s top professional league. Not many 18-year-olds average 21:40 of work per game playing against men, but Ristolainen did just that last season to solidify his spot near the top of the talented 2013 draft class.
Ristolainen makes his mark with crisp execution, a high-panic threshold, and a very capable hitting game. His four-way mobility proves formidable against the rush, while his quick decisions with the puck serve as a catalyst in transition. The Sabres coaching staff will naturally look to ratchet up his defensive zone coverage in year one, but overall it’s difficult to find a glaring weakness in Ristolainen’s robust skill set.
Ristolainen’s poise and all-situations competency have the makings of a top-pair NHL defender. While his size and temperament could provide a steady, minute-eating presence in the mold of Nashville captain Shea Weber, the Sabres would be equally pleased if the big Finn’s two-way skill and physical dominance can make an impact similar to Detroit stalwart Niklas Kronwall. With fellow countryman and current Sabres staffer Teppo Numminen ready to show him the ropes, Ristolainen is expected to enjoy an accelerated learning curve in Rochester before forcing his way back to Buffalo to join the on-going youth movement.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.