Rasmus Ristolainen Signs Six-Year Extension With Sabres

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ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres skates during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Turning 22 on the 27th of this month, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen made it clear that he would go into the World Cup of Hockey with or without an NHL deal, but was not worried about finding common ground with his team after Team Finland was eliminated. With the NHL roster deadline set for 5 p.m. today, the Sabres cut it close, but General Manager Tim Murray at long last locked up the central piece of the Buffalo blueline.

Rasmus Ristolainen Signs Six-Year Extension With Sabres

With his entry-level contract expiring at the end of last season, Ristolainen made it clear that he would drive a hard bargain. Taking on more responsibility, he logged 25:16 of ice time to lead all NHLers 24 or younger and placed 12th among all defensemen in power play minutes (256:17) and 24th overall in the league in penalty kill time (216:30). The result? Ristolainen had his best season. He scored nine goals and 41 points (first among NHL defensemen 21-and-younger). He also had four power play markers, and 21 man advantage points to lead the Sabres defense.

It’s no coincidence that the additions to forward core of Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, and Ryan O’Reilly had something to do with the offensive totals rising, but compared to the rest of Dan Bylsma‘s defense, the Turku native was the only one to get above 25 points overall and have double-digit point totals on the man advantage. His 202 shots on goal also finished third overall on the team and 81 pucks fired ahead of Zach Bogosian.

With the new additions and Ristolainen taking a big step with more responsibility, both Buffalo special teams units went from dead last in each category in 2014-15 to 12th on the power play and ninth on the shorthanded unit last season. The Sabres will have even more firepower this coming season with Kyle Okposo joining the fray and Tyler Ennis returning from a concussion, so there’s even more potential for Ristolainen to exceed 2015-16.

Going Forward

If Ristolainen develops over the course of this deal as Buffalo hoped he would after calling his name when they had the 8th overall pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, the $5.4 million price tag could wind up being a straight-up steal. A wonderful puck mover, he has speed through the neutral zone. Ristolainen can als throw the body with his 6’4″, 207-pound frame. With the Sabres on the rise, he’ll be looked at as one of the leaders of the group. Many remember the TPS product’s coming out party on the big stage that came in the 2014 World Junior Championship. He was named the best defenseman of the tourney. He also scored the golden goal of the tournament for the Finns in overtime; putting a capper on his three-goal tournament.

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