It’s a good thing for Sabres fans that Rasmus Ristolainen knows the importance of showing up to team events on time. Had the roles been reversed with former teammate Nikita Zadorov, perhaps it would have been Ristolainen who was traded away earlier this year in that package to the Colorado Avalanche, instead.
What a loss that would have been for Buffalo.
In a year where Jack Eichel is making his NHL debut and Sam Reinhart is proving that he belongs at this level of hockey, who expected that Ristolainen would be stealing the show the way he has so far?
Ristolainen may very well be on his way to earning a Norris Trophy nomination at some point this season. He’s done as expected as a defenseman, playing more than 24 minutes on average a night to lead his team, and put himself in the top 20 NHL defensemen in the same category, but he’s also put the Sabres on the scoreboard far more often than any defenseman has a right to.
His hat trick Thursday night against the Calgary Flames lifted him to 21 points on the season, 7 of which have come from goals. It’s enough to place him in a tie for fourth most points among NHL defensemen, and enough to be second on the Sabres squad in points. The only other player in blue and gold standing above him is Ryan O’Reilly with 23 points.
Ristolainen’s superb hat trick was one to remember purely for the number of streaks it broke. It became the first hat trick by a Sabre in nearly three years; the last was by Thomas Vanek on January 31st, 2013. Even more monumental, it was the first hat trick by a Buffalo defenseman since Phil Housley did so back in the 1987-1988 NHL season. It was also only the second by a defenseman this year in the NHL, and it’s unlikely that it’ll be joined by too many other candidates as the season goes on.
Unless, of course, Ristolainen decides to carry the entire team in another game, at some point. Which, truthfully, isn’t all that far-fetched anymore.