Rasmus Ristolainen may not be the biggest name defenceman in the Entry Draft this summer, but his pedigree dictates he could be the first of the crop appearing on an NHL team.
Ristolainen has been playing with TPS of the SM-liiga for three seasons now and has outperformed his age by a fair margin. He may not be the most offensively prolific defenceman but he recorded 15 points in 52 games for his team in Finland’s top circuit. He was one of Finland’s stronger players at the last World Juniors with six points in six games.
If you’re looking for a solid, safe player, Ristolainen is your man. He is solid in his own zone, can move the puck up ice effectively, plays with physicality and can offer some value in the offensive end of the rink. If he had more flash to his game, his name would come with more caché amongst this year’s draftees, but because he is a more subtle, solid type he doesn’t bring that brand value.
Ironically, that all-around solid play is the primary knock on Ristolainen’s game. While he can do everything you’d want from a defenceman effectively, he lacks that elite, game breaking facet to his game that would put him over the top in minds of scouts. He doesn’t bring any home run elements to the table, which tempers the enthusiasm surrounding his future.
Despite the lack of game breaking skill, Ristolainen could very well develop into a solid top four defenceman for the team that selects him. He has been playing against grown men for years now, making him more polished than your average draft prospect. He still has developing to do before he will establish himself as a quality or star NHL defenceman, but he should be a safe pick insofar as there aren’t many question marks surrounding his game.
Expect Ristolainen to be selected in the middle of round one to a team looking for defensive help sooner rather than later.
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