Over the years, Finland has produced some notable NHL players. The most famous being Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Saku Koivu and Olli Jokinen. The four forwards each played over 1,100 games, amassing 4,437 points. Among defensemen, Teppo Numminen, Kimmo Timonen, Jyrki Lumme come to mind.
Get ready to add another: Rasmus Ristolainen.
Risto…in Finnish, it likely translates to “fast skater with quick hands.” The 6’4″, just-turned 21-year-old native of Turku, Finland is developing into a top flight defenseman for the Sabres after being selected in the first round (8th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Originally credited with four assists in Tuesday night’s shootout loss to Detroit, NHL official scorers took one away after the game, leaving him with “only” three assists. It was Ristolainen’s fifth multi-point game of the season.
No Sabres defenseman has finished a season with five or more multi-point games since Christian Ehrhoff (six) in 2011-12. In a season that’s barely a third complete, Ristolainen now has 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists). He’s on pace for 55 points, which would be the most for a Sabres defensemen since 2000. For comparison’s sake, he had 20 points all of last season.
He skated a game-high 27:55 and attempted seven shots (with four getting on net).
“As a young player for us, we’re asking a lot of him and what he does for us,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “He’s playing against the other team’s best players night in and night out. He’s been dynamic for us.”
Risto’s defense partner, Josh Gorges agreed.
“He was outstanding and just continues to grow and get better,” Gorges said. “He’s finding the open guy. Winning his battles. He’s composed when he has the puck.”
A quick look at the Sabres stat sheet and you can see he’s making an impact:
- He leads the team in assists
- He’s second on the team in points
- He’s second on the team, only to Gorges, with 41 blocked shots
- He’s fifth on the team with 42 hits
- He’s averaging an enormous 24:14 minutes of ice time per game (the next closest is Ryan O’Reilly with 21:50)
Take your pick of league-wide stats and he’s equally as impressive:
- He’s ranked in the top 15 among NHL defensemen in goals, assists and points
- Of the 429 NHL players who have played at least 20 games this season, only nine have zero penalty minutes. The Sabres are the only team with two players among these nine: Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson. Ristolainen’s 36 games is the longest penalty-free streak of his career
- He is one of only two players (Loui Erkisson) with an average above 20 minutes per game and zero penalty minutes this season
- He is one of just three NHL defensemen (Brian Dumoulin, Matt Tennyson) with at least 15 games played and no penalty minutes
During his post-game interview Tuesday night, when prompted by WGR’s Paul Hamilton which of the four assists was his favorite, without pause Ristolainen answered, “My favorite one would’ve been the fifth one. But we didn’t get it.” He wasn’t joking either. He was upset, almost mad. He continued, “We need wins and points. It’s a big disappointment for me and the whole team.”
That’s an attitude that’s long been missing on this team–good enough isn’t good enough. On a night when he celebrated four helpers (but only credited with three), he didn’t really care. Instead, he was critical of his and his team’s performance. “We can’t let four goals in our net,” Ristolainen said. “That tells us something. We’ve got to be more sharp in the D-zone.”
The team, to a man, was vocal and angry they’d left a point on the table in the Motor City. It’s a sign of a bright future. With a man from Finland helping to guide the way.