For the past few days, questions have swirled about the AHL eligibility of Rasmus Ristolainen and whether it would be NHL or bust for the Buffalo Sabres 2013 first round pick.
Ristolainen, selected eighth overall, signed an NHL entry-level deal with the Sabres today, and it seems to have cleared the matter up. According to Kevin Oklobzija, the final word on Ristolainen’s chances of suiting up in the ‘A’ has come from Sabres assistant GM Kevin Devine:
Clarification on Rasmus Ristolainen’s AHL status from #Sabres asst. GM Kevin Devine. 18-year-old D-man will be with the #Sabres or #Amerks.
— Kevin Oklobzija (@kevinoDandC) July 13, 2013
Ristolainen, who has spent the last two seasons playing against men in SM-Liiga, will definitely get a shot at making the Sabres out of camp, but one has to wonder whether or not the hiccup in Tyler Myers’ development will play a factor in the Sabres choice to bring him to the NHL right away. After winning the Calder trophy in his rookie season, Myers has had some seasons that have found the Sabres front office wanting more, and his name has been commonplace in trade rumours on a consistent basis.
While each player should be judged on a case-by-case basis, Ristolainen stands a chance at becoming a standout, franchise defeceman for Buffalo. Seasoning in Rochester, whether it be a year or more, certainly wouldn’t hurt his progression and would give him a training ground to make youthful mistakes — he is just 18, after all — without the scrutiny that comes from playing in the NHL at such a young age.
The EliteProspects scouting report on Ristolainen:
One of the best defensemen of his age group, Ristolainen was a top-prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft. He is a calm player with good two-way ability and a mature style of play, though his defensive awareness and positioning still need work. More mobile and offensive than Buffalo’s other 2013 1st round pick Nikita Zadorov, Ristolainen moves the puck with confidence, has a good shot from the point and has displayed ability to work the powerplay in SM-liiga. Ristolainen has an NHL-ready frame and has gained a lot of strength while playing in SM-liiga and though he is not a big-time hitter, he feels comfortable playing the body and likes to get physical in front of the net.
While Sabres fans are salivating at the prospect of having him in the big leagues, Amerks fans could be getting a treat when the AHL campaign gets underway.